AIG Hires Burson Marsteller…for….?

As reported in PR Week, the insurance (and shrinking) giant, AIG, has recently employed the services of one of the largest public relations agencies in the country.

According to the article, an AIG spokesperson,Peter Tulupman, responded:

“We have hired Burson-Marsteller to help us respond to the huge volume of requests for information we are receiving from customers, employees, and the media,” Tulupman said in an e-mail to PRWeek. “We have more than offset the cost by canceling advertising and sponsorships.”

I get the second part of the quote, that being in reference to the recent “scandal” that erupted a couple of weeks ago in which members on congress (small caps on purpose) responded with “outrage” that B/M had the stones to move forward with “…$440,000 on a posh California retreat for its executives, complete with spa treatments, banquets and golf outings.”

That’s sensationalistic crap.  If you dig below the surface, which few outlets have done during this nation’s financial crisis, you will discover that this was not just for executives, but was a pre-planned event that the top performers earned before the crisis. For any of you who know folks or have been in sales, you know that often, companies dangle a trip to Hawaii or something of the like as an incentive for performance.

My controversial ten cents?  The AIG top-performers should be left alone because they had already earned the reward.  Keep top performers motivated when company morale is likely at an all-time low is more important than ever.  What AIG could have done differently is gotten ahead of the story;  one would think that someone in public relations would have thought to get in front of this. Maybe they did, but got quashed.  Who knows.  But back to my main point.

AIG announcing that they have hired Burson Marsteller to handle “huge volume of requests for information we are receiving from customers, employees, and the media” is like saying that you have hired ten rabid German Shepherds to guard a lollipop that fell on the floor.  I competed against B/M for a long time, and I can tell you that their rep is for gloves-off, hand-to-hand combat for clients.  There will be the inevitable information that B/M is the agency of record for Philip Morris, USA, but that is irrelevant.  The point is that if you want someone to deal with the “huge volume of requests for information we are receiving from customers, employees, and the media,” hire a firm in India to answer the phones.

AIG suggesting that Burson is going to help them answer inquiries is disingenuous.  Hiring B/M to help them stem the flow of both negative publicity the the outflow of capital would be a more honest answer. I wonder who is calling the communications shots within the company.

Whoever it is should be smarter.



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When Good Things Happen to Awesome People

I was so happy to be contacted yesterday by my once competitor, once colleague, and always friend, Cheryl Contee.  Cheryl is one of the smartest people out there in the social media space, and had worked out of the San Francisco office of a former employer.

I was overjoyed to find out that Cheryl, along with her business partner, Rosalyn “Roz” Lemieux, have founded Fission Strategy, a San Francisco-based consulting business:

“..specializing in online advocacy, marketing, and communications. Fission partners, Roz Lemieux and Cheryl Contee, have launched dozens of online campaigns, websites, and blogs. We have been using social media to help nonprofit organizations (and for-profits focused on “social good”) communicate since 2003, so we share with you tested techniques that work.”

Good things do indeed happen to good people, but more often than not, if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.   What makes me so happy is that Cheryl now has a place to literally call her own, in which she can apply her smarts, business acumen and wonderful personality.

I have told Cheryl in the past that we are parallel universe people for a variety of reasons, but I don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican, black, white or striped – Cheryl is one smart cookie and I am delighted that she has her own gig.

Cheryl and Roz – I would wish you luck, but something tells me that you won’t need it.


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The Economy and Public Relations

I have been waiting for a post like this to comment on, but in PR Squared’s “Cut the PR Agency? Are You *Sure* About That?” — Todd Defren points out his first client casualty due to the economic uncertainly of the bad economy.  Todd writes:

It happened today.  The economic angst whacked our agency upside the head.  We now have our first example of a client who’s asked to terminate our contract “strictly as a precaution driven by economic uncertainty.”

It seems Sequoia Capital’s “Mandatory All-Hands CEO Meeting” last week, with its gloomy slide deck, has tech CEOs skittering for cover.  But folks who rely solely on the VCs’ slideshow to make crucial decisions do their companies a disservice: it seems there was a lot of other valuable conversation happening throughout the Sequoia event.

It goes without saying that if you are chasing dollars in the relations world right now — either internal or external — now is the time to really “sing for your supper” and proactively and consistently ensure that your value is evident to those who control your dollars, yen or scheckels.

Now I am not a CFO, nor can I really even balance my own checkbook, it it often seems that company bean counters take a dim view of public relations in a economic downturn.  Besides cutting back on internal communications, this is about the dumbest thing that you can do.

Todd sums it up pretty well:

“It is well documented that brands that increase (marketing) during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at lower cost than during good economic times.”

This is a great, succinct argument, but as someone who worked on the agency side for many, many years (the first to be axed in a bad economy), one that often falls of deaf ears.

I’m curious to know others’ thoughts when it comes to the value of public relations in a economic downturn.  How do you establish and promote its value?


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The Final Word on Stupidity

I am really going to make this post short, because most of it is contained in an article that I wrote today for Media Bullseye.

For those of you who have followed my trek through self-absorption (the Internet revolves around ME), to realization to a public apology, you may enjoy the article.

It also includes four tips (self-taught), focused on thinking carefully about the consequences of putting something in cyberspace before one hits the “publish” button.


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Blog Action Day: Poverty

I will make this post short and sweet, because sometimes, the less said, the better.  Today is International Blog Action Day 2008 and I am happy to be a part of it with my little blog.  This year’s topic is poverty.

Here comes the disclaimer: I live in a nice neighborhood, have two great, stable jobs and my life is pretty good.  But yesterday, I was talking with a colleague at work whose nine year-old daughter asked her parents last week if they wanted to keep her allowance for a while – not give it to her.  Strange thing for a nine year-old to ask.  Why?

It turns out that two of her classmates’ fathers has recently lost their jobs. Stories like this, from the protected cocoon in which I live, bring it home a) how fortunate I am, and b) not others share the same fortune.  I may complain about my 401(k) tanking, but at least I HAVE a 401(k).

My last note is that, as a dad with two young children, I focus intently on helping them understand how fortunate we really are.  That usually includes a trip to the basement for them to forage for un-played-with toys, put them in a box and take them to a local day-laborer site, the Casa de Maryland.  Last year was the first time that we tried this, and thinking through the minds of small children, I started with just one box and a request to “think hard” about the toys they didn’t want.

We ended up with four boxes of toys, a very grateful staff at the Casa de Maryland and one very proud father. We are fortunate, but not everyone is.


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