Thanks: African American PR Pioneers who shaped our profession

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

When I prepared for my Accredited Public Relations (APR) exams (oral & written) via the Public Relations Society of America , we read and talked about the history of the profession and the notables who shaped our industry.

I learned that Sam Adams moved and manipulated public opinion during the Revolutionary War. Alexander Hamilton published 85 Federalist letters urging ratification of the Constitution.

Amos Kendall served President Andrew Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet” as pollster, counselor, publicist and ghostwriter.

P.T. Barnum was a canny “press agent” showman who leveraged publicity for his Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin
Parker & Lee opened the first public relations firm in New York City in 1904.

And Edward Bernays (who I had the pleasure of spending a day with in his Cambridge home) wrote many books about public relations, coined the term “public relations counsel,” and advised Presidents and CEOs.

But I never learned about notable African Americans who were influential in the formation of the PR industry.  

But now, thanks to Marcia Taylor from Norfolk State University, I know there were many

Inez Kaiser

African American PR pioneers. Her post in celebration of Black History Month made me smarter:

I now know that Ida B. Wells-Barnett promoted women’s suffrage and the abolition of lynching.

I learned that Bayard Rustin was the social cause strategist who organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech.

And I know Inez Kaiser founded the first African-American, female-owned PR firm in America.

Thanks Marcia and PRSA, and congratulations to all the pioneers who should be recognized for their contributions to the PR industry. 

Thoughts about Tiger, Toyota and Texas crashes

  • My take on this morning’s Tiger Woods press conference: maybe his approach was too controlled and he still doesn’t get the concept of transparency for a global brand influencing millions, but I say let’s put this one to bed. I believe Tiger’s vast ego has been kicked in the gut and he’s learned a few lessons about himself. He seemed sincere; he wants to move on. Let’s let him. He’s a golfer, not the Pope or President of the Free World. America loves a comeback story: Alec Baldwin screamed at his kid and rebounded nicely. Mickey Rourke committed every sin and is now a darling of Hollywood. David Letterman came clean and is # 1 in the late night ratings. Everyone deserves a second chance. Let’s see how Tiger does getting his life back on track. Go hit the little white ball.
  • Nice to see that Akio Toyoda, the President of Toyota, changed his mind and will appear before the Congressional Oversight committee next week. He personifies the brand and needs to put himself on the line to listen, exhibit compassion and make things better. You made the right call. 
  • Sheryl Stack was quick to express her sympathy to the victims and their families. Her husband, Joseph Stack, crashed his Piper Cherokee plane into an Austin office building yesterday. Caring about others when you’re in a real-time hurt state demonstrates wonderful compassion. Thanks for thinking beyond yourself in a moment of shock and grief.

Has the Olympics brand jumped the shark?

The Vancouver Olympics open today. What’s your reaction? Is it yay!, yawn, or yikes?
 
Watching the endless hype and hoopla as NBC prepares to broadcast the Games, I’m wondering whether the current Olympics concept remains right for these times.
 
Don’t get me wrong. I love my country and enjoy healthy competition among nations. I appreciate the ancient Greek credo of healthy mind/healthy body. I subscribe to Sports Illustrated. I’ll watch some of the Games.
 
It’s none of that. It just seems to be an awkward time for excessiveness.
 

Consider:  

  • The current estimated cost for the Vancouver games is $6 billion – that’s nearly $6 billion of Canadian taxpayer money. Experts expect the final number to climb as high as $8 billion. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the Beijing Olympics which racked up $50-60 billion (U.S. dollars).
  •  According to the Vancouver Sun, the cost of security alone will be $800 million more than the budgeted $175 million.
  •  NBC paid $2.2 billion for rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympics. Meanwhile, Dick Ebersol, Chairman of NBC’s Sports Division said the network will lose money on the deal.
We observe (and sometimes experience) this mind-blowing spending every two years, in different cities/countries every time.
 
One month ago today, over two million people became homeless in Haiti and more than 200,000 people died. It may take that country 25 years to recover from the earthquake.
 
The Great Recession is in full bloom. More than 10 million Americans are unemployed. Home mortgages are being abandoned. Consumer confidence is low. Canada’s New Democratic party says 15,000+ British Columbia residents are homeless as the frivolity begins. It’s a climate of fear, uncertainty and doubt.
 
To make the point, some folks organized the Vancouver Poverty Olympics this past Sunday, protesting the billions being spent.
 
With this undercurrent, do you think it’s time to steer the Olympics in a new direction? Yes, a lot of it is funded privately, but does it feel like it’s too much spend for too little gain? Billions and billions of dollars for 17 days?
 
Aside from the massive spending, there’s also the issue of Olympics brand erosion.
 
Did the Olympics jump the shark when it shifted from every four years to every two years? Does the adage, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” apply? Did dividing the winter and summer games dilute the brand?       
 
This is supposed to be a global event, but Anheuser Busch, for example, is using the Vancouver Olympics as a “regional play,” according to Ad Age, strategizing the World Cup delivers a more global platform. Is it just this particular Olympics? Winter games always draw less than summer games (80 nations in Vancouver vs. 200+ in summer). Is this a growing trend for penny-pinching advertisers?
 
I’m all for fun and games. I like the Olympics concept. But is it time for this gargantuan bi-annual undertaking to be simplified and re-imagined?
 
I’m just sayin’…

Toyota should meet recall questions with big doses of transparency

Until a few days ago, who didn’t want to be Toyota? They had it all. A sterling reputation for quality. The world’s most popular hybrid car. Insanely loyal customers. And in 2009, to crown it all, Toyota ended General Motors’ 77-year run as the world’s largest automaker.
 
It probably would have been nice for Toyota if it could have had some time to celebrate being top dog, but that wasn’t meant to be. The company is playing defense over recalls affecting 9 million of its vehicles worldwide. The news that gas pedal assemblies on its top models can cause sudden acceleration strikes at the most durable part Toyota’s brand image – its reputation for quality. Toyota got great by making quality cars that people could afford. It built that reputation one solid, reliable Corolla, Camry and Prius at a time. Even though competitors like Honda and Nissan were rated just as highly, Toyota was to quality what Volvo was to safety – first among equals and better than everyone else.

Now the auto company that could once do no wrong has shut down production lines and instructed dealers not to sell some of its most popular models. The New York Times reported that Toyota knew about the acceleration problems two years before it issued the recall. Rep. Henry Waxman, one of Congress’ most persistent consumer watchdogs, announced he will hold hearings to investigate the sudden acceleration problem next month.

What’s unfolding is the next great case study on the value of openness and transparency. Toyota has already said it welcomes the chance to address the issue head-on and publicly at Waxman’s hearings. The company has already started a pre-emptive media campaign. Toyota issued statements saying it started working on a solution this fall, when it learned how pervasive the problem was. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda issued a public apology from the World Economic Conference in Davos. Toyota USA President Jim Lentz faced Matt Lauer on the “Today” show. The company announced over the weekend that it has rushed millions of repair kits to dealers.
 
So the court of public opinion is convened. How will the Toyota brand come out the other end? It depends how the company’s mea culpas resonate with the public. If Toyota is perceived as earnest and sincere, history has shown that the public will forgive it and continue to see it as a brand synonymous with quality. If it is perceived as elusive and defensive, then the Toyota brand could become just another name in the pack.

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