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If I Were LeBron’s PR Guy…


The winds of backlash are again brewing near the shores of Lake Erie as Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans await “The Decision” part two. Rumors are flying that basketball superstar LeBron James may part ways with the Miami Heat and play for Cleveland. The idea that the Akron native might return to Ohio is not outside the realm of possibility. According to news outlets, James’ Cleveland-based agent last week talked to the Cavs along with four other teams (the Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers.) After snubbing Cleveland in his much-maligned televised announcement four years ago, how James handles his next move will certainly have an impact on his overall image. Can he afford another public relations gaffe at the expense of Cleveland and its fans?

Remember that Cleveland fans felt beyond betrayed when James left. Some wept after the announcement, and others burned his jerseys in the streets.

At the time, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert penned an open letter to fans, calling James cowardly, shameful and disloyal among other things.

The letter was removed from the Cavs’ website this week as the team and Gilbert attempt to woo James back. Whether James stays in Miami or returns to Cleveland (or moves to L.A, Phoenix or Texas) remains the lead basketball story in the world until he finally makes his new decision. The feasibility of the various scenarios is more complicated than I care to take on. The NBA salary cap looks like trigonometry to me, but even by my journalism school mathematics, I can tell you that any team that has a shot at James will likely move mountains to get the finances to work.

And believe me, Cleveland wants him. His possible return has been front-page news for weeks, and The Plain Dealer newspaper recently ran a story asking readers what the page one headline should be if James again joins the Cavs. (Could it be anything other than “Return of the King,” by the way?)

But what if he snubs Cleveland yet again? (Here’s an article suggesting why that’s likely.) What should Jamee do differently from a PR standpoint?

Here are a few tips on breaking bad news:

Get your bad news out quickly
With his “Decision” in 2010, James basically performed slow torture on Cleveland fans. This time around, he needs to again have control of his announcement but not let the timing control him. If he chooses a team that isn’t Cleveland, he should immediately let the Cavs know of his choice. It’s best if the owner of the team hears it directly from James and before the news is plastered all over ESPN and the Internet. Get the “bad news” distributed quickly and without fanfare. Convey bad news like you take off a Band-Aid – fast.

Consider the personal touch
To have maximum impact, bad news is best delivered as personally as possible. Just as it is inappropriate to break-up via text message, one should not issue bad news via press release when a phone call will have an immensely greater impact. If I were counseling James about how to burnish his image in Cleveland, I would tell him that he should call the owner, the mayor of Cleveland and the publisher of The Plain Dealer before making his decision public. If you want to be viewed as a class act (which I personally believe James is), then it is best to behave like one. Just as losing political candidates call and concede elections to their rivals, so should James let Cleveland know of his intentions before the news breaks.

Be sympathetic
No one likes cold, calculated responses when receiving bad news. We don’t know if James is seriously considering a move back to Cleveland, but basketball fans there are rooting for it. If he wants to be respectful of fans in his home state, then it is best for him to craft his message with their feelings in mind. James should tell Cleveland fans that he appreciates them and is grateful for their efforts to try to sign him, but he’s making his current decision, whatever it happens to be, based on what is best for him and his family right now.

I don’t know where James will play next season, but his current free agency offers an opportunity to make some amends to Cleveland fans, even if he decides to play elsewhere.

What do you think? Will Cleveland welcome him back if he decides to return?


author: John P. David

Disruptive Technology Merits Disruptive PR


One of the big stories of the summer is the rise of ridesharing services. You may have heard of the major players (companies Uber and Lyft) or seen one of the Lyft cars — distinguishably marked with a rather undistinguished-looking pink mustache.

For the uninitiated, ridesharing offers an alternative to traditional taxis. Instead of calling or hailing a yellow cab, passengers connect via smartphone apps to ridesharing vehicles, operated by company-sanctioned drivers in their personal automobiles. Sounds awfully similar to a taxi right? Well, that’s the main reason they are making news as ridesharing is generally less expensive than taxis, and at the moment, it is not regulated as strictly as traditional cabs or car services. Battle lines are being drawn in state legislative houses and city commission chambers around the country. And taxi drivers feel threatened as evidenced by large scale protests in cities around the world. 

The issues are significant and not just to cab drivers who sometimes pay hundreds of thousands of dollars just for the opportunity to operate a regulated taxi. Should ridesharing services be regulated like taxis? How much insurance should the drivers carry? If they are “cars for hire,” should they be treated as commercial vehicles? How closely should driving and criminal records of ridesharing drivers be scrutinized?

There’s certainly a public safety question here, but ridesharing would not be growing and expanding in cities around the world if it wasn’t meeting a need. Cabs are often hard to find, drivers can be unskilled, fares continue to rise and the inside of many cabs are ever in need of a new air freshener. Shouldn’t a simple alternative to taxis such as ridesharing be allowed within free market economies?

While being debated, this new approach to helping folks get to and fro has grabbed the attention of venture capital investors around the world: Uber has been valued at more than $17 billion by some. Yes, that’s billion with a “b.”

In Miami, Uber and Lyft took nontraditional approaches to PR and community relations. Uber started working behind the scenes earlier this year, attempting to modify existing laws before starting to offer rides here. Lyft, on the other hand, did what disruptive companies do best: It started offering its services without kissing anyone’s ring and, well, started disrupting.

And then came the citations. Local police in South Florida started citing ridesharing drivers and in some cases impounding their cars. Undaunted, the ridesharing companies, believing they have a right to offer their services, paid the fines and freed their vehicles from the clutches of the tow lots. The battle has been front-page news in Miami for several weeks. (Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei’s recent story, aptly titled "Car Wars," offers an excellent summary.)

I was discussing the ridesharing phenomenon with another public relations pro, and he said the companies both went about entering the market all wrong. Neither Uber nor Lyft joined any of the local chambers of commerce or made any visible connections to charities or other community groups. Neither made any friends, aside from lobbyists. (To its credit, Uber did start a Miami page on its blog site. It’s peppered with snippets but nothing has been posted since the controversy began a month ago.) My friend suggested that easing into the market and making some grassroots connections might have been a better and more traditional path to avoid large scale confrontation.

During our conversation, I countered that while I, too, am a PR traditionalist, I’m not so sure that Lyft and Uber did anything incorrectly — despite not following the PR 101 text book. Here’s why: Disruptive technology merits disruptive PR.

While Uber attempted to lay some legislative groundwork, Lyft “barreled in” and started offering its service without building any bridges. When the confrontations started with local officials and police, local news outlets started covering the controversy with great verve. And this coverage drove the issue to the forefront, forcing local politicians to defend their positions and firing up the taxi industry. Throw-in that it’s an international controversy and the story becomes leading local news for weeks.

If Lyft had not “barreled in,” then the ridesharing issue might have continued to be argued via back channels and without media interest. Prior to the controversy, I had barely heard of ridesharing and now it’s water-cooler and cocktail party fare.

And Lyft’s reaction to tickets and towing has been to pay the fines and continue operating. Just as Nike happily paid fines when Michael Jordan wore non-sanctioned shoes during Chicago Bulls games, Lyft and Uber have acknowledged that there’s a value to being in the spotlight — even if it might skew negative and cost them fines and penalties.

While Lyft and Uber don’t want to be outlaw companies, I believe that a disruptive public relations strategy does mesh with a disruptive brand. The long-term value of ridesharing is that it may dramatically change the way we get around. The taxi industry is entrenched in most cities and ridesharing challenges the status quo. While one brand attempted to take on taxis through legal challenges, another chose to take its argument directly to the people — creating a unique fervor. Viewing the value of the publicity — at levels which can’t be bought — it’s clear that the disruptive strategy generated more awareness than taking a classic grassroots approach.

What do you think?  Should ridesharing be regulated like the taxi industry?  Or, should the new companies be allowed to take a crack at disrupting the status quo?


Author: John P. David

U.S. Soccer’s No-Win Scenario


In an interview with The New York Times back in December, Jurgen Klinsmann, coach of the U.S. mens national soccer team (USMNT), said that the U.S. can’t win the World Cup which begins today in Brazil. After the story came out, I was truly surprised that Klinsmann, even though he is German, would ever suggest such a thing to American fans. How dare anyone say we can’t win before the matches even start? Sacrilege. He caught some heat for the statement, but I figured it was just a media training lapse. Then yesterday, he said it again! In my opinion, Klinsmann’s attitude is emblematic of why soccer can’t seem to catch on in the U.S.

Now, before you brand me a fútbol hater (you know who you are), let me set the scene. I like soccer and the World Cup, just as I enjoy many other grand sporting events like the Indy 500, Wimbledon and the Olympics (I still don’t get NASCAR). While it doesn’t captivate me like American football, I do appreciate the athleticism and talent of soccer players. The fans are passionate, and aside from the drone of those vuvuzela horns and the practice of ending games with penalty kicks, I have few complaints. And I will watch the USMNT next week and hopefully well beyond.

So, I’m not a soccer hater, but I think a few things need to change for U.S. fans to start embracing “the beautiful game.”

Stop Playing Not to Lose
When I was a kid, my neighbors were an Italian family that loved soccer. While watching a game with them, Italy fell behind by two early goals and my neighbors were ready to slit their wrists. The remainder of the game was spent watching the leading team play keep-away as the Italians sulked.

For Americans, nothing could be more boring. We are the country of long bombs, grand slams, hat tricks and tap outs. It’s practically a cliché, but the lack of scoring and the tendency to protect slim leads is not good sporting theater in the U.S.

And then there are the dreaded penalty kicks. Have you seen the size of a soccer goal? It’s huge. And the goalie has to basically guess where the kicker will shoot. Teams play a long, strategic match which then comes down to a couple lucky lunges – or an unfortunate choke by a kicker. If I was in charge, I would bring back the “Golden Goal.” Make the games pure sudden death, and I guarantee more Americans will take notice.

America Needs Some Stars
Aside from his defeatist comments, Klinsmann also made news when he cut Landon Donovan, the best known American player. I realize that the greatest players in the world today are not Americans. Europeans and South and Central Americans are beyond dominant, but we must have some good players to rally behind. While we shouldn’t expect a dream team, somewhere along the line the promotional folks behind the USMNT should have introduced the casual fan to a few of our country’s best players. Who is the Lebron James, Tom Brady or Mia Hamm of the USMNT? And if there’s no superstar, who is the enigmatic oddball? Or the guy with a crazy haircut … or supermodel girlfriend? That I can name at least one player for Brazil, Spain, Argentina and England yet none on the USMNT says more about the ineffectiveness of the team’s promotional efforts than my apathy. Hopefully a star or two, who we can rally behind, will emerge in the next few weeks, otherwise the clock starts on NFL training camp.

This is Our Year? Nein!
Back to Klinsmann and bad karma. Yesterday he told the Associated Press: “I think for us now, talking about winning a World Cup is just not realistic. If it is American or not, you can correct me.” Well it’s not, and here we go:

He may be right about our chances, but that is the last thing American fans want to hear. We always believe that we can win, particularly at the beginning of a sporting event. Last time I checked, all matches still start off with 0-0 score. The tournament hasn’t begun yet, and anything can happen. In the U.S., we believe it is our birthright to be the underdog, and we always have a chance to win. We are a nation that cheers on the little guy, and we adore the Cinderella story. My gosh, has Klinsmann not seen Rocky? Or Hoosiers? Or Rudy?

Suggesting that our team can’t win is about as un-American as one could be. Bobby Knight would beat the crap out of Klinsmann for saying that. Vince Lombardi would pound him into the frozen tundra. Bill Belichick would cut him.

How can you expect us to get on board with the USMNT when the coach doesn’t even believe in them? If I had a chance to counsel Klinsmann on public relations for his team, I could limit it to three words: “Know your audience.”

My hope is that the USMNT will find a way to emerge from the “Group of Death” and play deep into the World Cup tournament. It will be wonderful if some new American stars are born, and hopefully many U.S. fans will fall in love with the game for years to come.

You can keep the penalty kicks.

Do you agree with Klinsmann or does the USMNT have a chance in the World Cup?


author: John P. David

Should the U.S. have Google’s “Right to be Forgotten” too?


Google last week unveiled a system which enables citizens of the European Union to ask the search engine to remove results from its listings. The move comes in response to a landmark E.U. court ruling which gave people there the “right to be forgotten.”

Europeans who want personal information removed from search results can make their case directly to Google via an online form. And even though, as with everything with Google, the requests must be made online, the final decision on what information will be removed from search results will be made by actual people - not one of Google’s famed algorithms. According a story from the BBC, disagreements about whether information should be removed or not will be overseen by national data protection agencies.

I asked my friend Brook Zimmatore, owner of the brand protection agency Massive in the United Kingdom, about the situation. While it may seem like fabulous news and great precedent for individuals who want information removed from search results, Zimmatore is more circumspect.

"Google has carefully controlled this case to provide minimal removal options," he says. "Initially what we are seeing is the right to correct outdated personal records such as private information, phone numbers, financial details, address, current employment, etc. Public records, alleged defamation and bona fide news stories are unlikely to be removed."

While this news is biggest in Europe, it also affects the ongoing debate in the United States about privacy and information posted on the Internet about private U.S. citizens. It makes me wonder, what qualifies as something falling under the “right to be forgotten” and if such a policy might find its way to U.S. shores.

For starters, this new policy is only going into effect for countries within the E.U. Google’s submission form asks what country you are from, and the “United States” is not an option. Further, Google requires that anyone asking for personal information to be removed to provide identification, so you can’t make a removal request on behalf of someone else.

But who and what deserves to be forgotten? This is a fascinating debate which might rage for a long time. The BBC article includes a sidebar about a man in England who lost his job after his employer learned of a drunk driving conviction that preceded his employment. The man was never asked about it on his employment application but, later, someone found evidence of his conviction online, and he was sacked. This man believes he has the right to have his drunk driving conviction “forgotten.” (It’s important to note that while the story doesn’t describe the man’s vocation, it does say that he is not a chauffeur, bus driver or the like.) He made a mistake which he hopes will not continue to haunt him. To me, this seems like a reasonable request which Google could grant.

Yet the waters are so much murkier. Having grown up before the digital age, I’m fortunate that the things I hope remain forgotten (#fraternity, #college) were never cataloged online. Folks who have had indiscretions since the Internet proliferation are not as lucky. Does a person have the right to have a photo of them taking a bong hit removed from search? Perhaps so. But what if that person is Micheal Phelps? Maybe not. If Kim Kardashian decides to ditch her camera-starved ways and live a monastic lifestyle in Montana, does she deserve to someday be forgotten? We probably say no because she’s a public figure and famous.

But what about infamy? Would we no longer have a right to exploit that? Does Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman have a right to have his infamous foul-ball-interference moment forgotten? While Cubs fans will never forget how he may have cheated them of a World Series appearance, does he have a right to be removed from search results?

While the right to have some personal information removed from web searches is currently confined to the E.U., it seems that it has potential to migrate across the Atlantic. I have a friend who was born in Wales but married an American. He holds dual citizenship, so could he ask for information to be removed from search using his British passport as identification but submitting it from his office in Florida?

Can I finally cash-in on my Polish ancestry and make an argument that I’m as European as my long-lost relatives on that continent?

And here’s another question: What if Google’s efforts in the E.U. turn out to be well received and uncontroversial? Might the worldwide search engine itself migrate the policies to the United States and the rest of the planet.

I will leave the legal arguments to the attorneys and free-speech advocates, but it seems to me that, while tricky to judge, the right to be forgotten is an intriguing option that could find its way to America. I wouldn’t expect to see it anytime soon, but it’s certainly worthy of discussion. In the meantime, you are still stuck calling those of us in reputation management to help with your online issues.


Author: John P. David

Every Business Needs a Reputational Firewall

In 2006, 60 Minutes aired a story about a famous, yet secretive hedge fund billionaire who was embroiled in a stock-shorting lawsuit. While the story itself was interesting, one thing that struck me was that 60 Minutes didn’t have a photograph of the famous trader. The background was that he had purchased the rights to any photos taken of him and prevented his image from being published anywhere. He was rarely seen in public and used private garages whenever he traveled in his chauffeured car. The only film that the news show could find was grainy security-camera footage of him exiting a hotel through a back entrance. Talk about managing one’s image.

Sadly, the other 99.99% of us don’t have the financial wherewithal to prevent unwanted images from being published online. We have to use other means to safeguard our online reputation. The first and best defense is to, simply, have a good reputation. We can prevent a lot of problems by following the many golden rules we learned from our parents:

  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
  • Don’t drink and drive/text.
  • Don’t tug on Superman’s cape.
  • Nothing good happens in a strip club after 2 a.m. on a weekday.

For businesses and individuals that might be prone to online criticism, there are other rules to live by.

Stake your claim to your name. This is really basic stuff but it merits repeating. In a crisis, it is important for your customers and the public to be able to hear your news directly (or as directly as possible) from the source. Your company should have a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page if for no other reason than it verifies your company’s identity and authenticates your news.

Build your online firewall. If your business could be hijacked by negative reviews and online attacks, then you need to ensure that you regularly publish your positive news and build a legacy of positive Internet results. It’s tougher for negative information to take center stage in the future if there’s already a lot of positive information anchoring top search results.

Manage online reviews. I have seen studies that suggest about 80 percent of online buying decisions are impacted by reviews. Another study stated that restaurants can charge 10-15 percent more when they add a star to their rating. Online reviews are not going away, and I mean that in both the literal and figurative senses. It is difficult to get negative reviews removed, especially from large review sites; and some websites have made a business of posting negative information about companies and individuals. Negative reviews have to be countered because they won’t “just go away.” Further, time has shown that consumers like to look at reviews and read feedback on businesses which they may patronize. While some businesses (retail, restaurants, hotels) feel the most impact from reviews, Google offers the ability to review any business which has a Google Places listing. Doctors, hospitals and healthcare providers have been feeling the impact lately, too. Note that the fewer reviews a business has, the more vulnerable it is to having a negative review torpedo its overall ranking. Tools exist to make gaining positive reviews more systematic, so it pays to investigate them.

What all of these strategies have in common is that they are active approaches to online reputation management – while 90 percent of the online reputation management industry offers reactive tactics. Whether you are a hedge fund billionaire who can afford to control his image with financial muscle or a small business owner who asks his clients for positive reviews on Yelp, you can build your own reputational firewall. Do this, while also following your parents’ advice, and you will never need a reputation management consultant.


Sterling Scandal Winners and Losers


The Donald Sterling imbroglio captivated both sports and non-sports fans this past week. The story moved so fast that we went, in a span of a few days, from not knowing a thing about the L.A. Clippers owner to knowing far too much and then seeing him banned as an NBA owner. Looking at it in review, I see some clear winners and losers.

Winner: Swift Justice.  NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in a matter of hours, performed an investigation, weighed the facts and made a decision quickly and steadfastly. NBA players were rightfully outraged by Sterling, and had Silver not made his decision quickly and justly, there could have been a complete revolt from the players. At the same time, it was very clear from all parties that Silver had to cut the head off the snake. He did and did it swiftly.

Loser: Bigotry and Racism.  Tolerance for bigotry and racism in America is fading fast, and Silver’s decision resonates across the professional landscape. We are not OK with Sterling’s behavior. Yes, you could argue that his racism was nothing new when you heard about prior litigation and accusations from previous employees, but when the issue hit the national platform, it was dealt with appropriately and with consensus.

Winner: Sterling’s Attorneys (Moving forward).  While this story reached its climax on Tuesday when Sterling was banned, it is certainly not over. Dig in for a legal fight because there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, and Sterling’s corporate attorneys are going to rack up substantial billable hours crafting Sterling’s exit as an NBA owner. It’s not like he can just hand over the keys to the building and walk away.

Loser: Sterling’s Estate Plan.  With Sterling being forced to sell the team, it means he is going to have to pay capital gains tax on the sale. Previously, he was only expecting to pay estate taxes on the value of team when he passes away — remember, the guy’s 80. did some back of the envelope calculations on this. (Thankfully, the only thing I’m allowed to write on the back of an envelope is a return address.) Slate’s story suggests that this could end up costing Sterling an additional $140 million in taxes.

Winner: The Term “Estranged.”  A whole generation of children now know what the term “estranged” means because their parents had to explain it to them in the context of this story. While some of us will always envision an estranged spouse as a wayward soul living far away in a house on wheels, we had to explain to our kids that you can be married and not be living with your spouse — and still not be divorced. We explained a term which many people had forgotten or not used very often.

Loser: Initials for First Names.  Sterling’s ex-girlfriend/mistress goes by the name V. Stiviano. Was it just me or was this one of the first things you thought of when you saw her name: What kind of name is V? How does she get to be identified as merely V? I don’t understand. For clarification, her real name is Vanessa Perez. She actually went to the same high school as Sterling — just 48 years later. And his last name wasn’t always “Sterling.” He was born Donald Tokawitz. But who gets to be named an initial? Unless you are T. Boone Pickens, you don’t get to have one letter as a name; and even T. Boone is called Boone by his friends. I’m glad Vanessa was called out.

Winner: Loyal, Committed Couples.  This story would be much different if this guy had just remained in a committed relationship. The fact that he was estranged from his wife, had a mistress and lived a “playground of the rich” lifestyle contributes to the overall consternation. He makes people who have stayed in loyal, committed relationships look even stronger.

Loser: Mistresses and Sugar Babies.  If this story doesn’t tell wealthy men to keep it in their pants, what story will? This guy likes his “arm candy” but the story broke and was magnified because his “girlfriend” was recording his conversations. Of course, you can’t condone any of the participants’ conduct, but perhaps Sterling’s plight with his Sugar Baby will jolt the moral compasses of would-be Sugar Daddies.

Winner: TMZ.  Long a powerful center of celebrity gossip, TMZ broke a story which grabbed national headlines for days. Just as took a big leap when it broke the Manti T’eo story last year, TMZ gets a boost from revealing Sterling’s rants.

Loser/Winner: Manufacturer of the Bizarre Stiviano Sun Visor.  Have you seen the Darth Vader-esque visor that Vanessa was seen wearing as the paparazzi circled? Jeanne Moos from CNN did a great piece on it. How would you feel this week if you were the manufacturer of that product? The infamous girl of the moment is flaunting your product on national TV. Perhaps it’s good for sales in the short term. They will definitely see a boost around Halloween.

Who do you think the winners and losers were this week?


All Reputation Management Tools Not Created Equal


An over-reliance on a familiar tool is a concept made famous by American psychologist Abraham Maslow who in 1966 said: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Recently, I worked on two interesting yet vastly different online reputation problems, and the experiences affirmed to me that even though online reputation management issues are diverse, “hammers” are very popular.

The first involved a company that was fighting a disparaging and defamatory online forum posting.  A disgruntled customer wrote a negative review on an industry forum – complaining that the company’s services were inadequate, a rip-off and, here’s the kicker, one of the employees (who was singled out by name) was on drugs. 

This particular entry was posted on a prominent industry website, and when you Googled the topic or the company, the negative posting popped on page one of search results.  The president of the company said that since this post first emerged a few months ago, he has lost more than $70,000 in revenue.  (His business is very consistent, and his year-over-year sales were off;  only thing different this year was the negative post.)

We analyzed the situation and learned that the website hosting the forum post was run by an up-and-coming progressive media company that, in my opinion, is trying to build its own reputation in the client’s industry.  We reached out to them with a fairly simple message: We wanted them to remove the post because it was defamatory.  Though I’m not a lawyer, I do know that you can’t name someone online and say they are on drugs, unless they were arrested or convicted – or perhaps living in Colorado.  We also stressed that this type of post was clearly not in the spirit and mission of the aspiring media company.  We held back on any confrontational language or legal threats.  First best to try a little honey.

Determining who to contact can be a challenge, but in this case we were able to get our request in the hands of the right person.  They responded quickly, and the post was taken down in less than 24 hours.  We reported the dead link to Google and it was gone from search results within a few days.  Mission accomplished.

In contrast, another person called me who was also dealing with a defamatory web post.  This time on one of the major blog sites.    We reached out to them and told them that posting was defamatory and in violation of their terms of service.  They sent us back a form letter saying they weren’t responsible for the content on their site. (That these blog sites enable people to anonymously defame others remains amazing to me, but that’s a topic for another day.)

To combat the negative post, we employed a number of tactics, including some classic public relations, some web-oriented tools and some sophisticated, state-of-the-art techniques using some guys who know how to make online things go away.  To quote Liam Neeson in Taken, they have “a very particular set of skills…acquired over a very long career…that make [them] a nightmare.”

In the short term and as of this writing, the negative post has been pushed off of page one.  The hope is that it will be gone completely in the near future.  How the specialists make this happen is, well, proprietary.

From these experiences, I have learned that all online reputation management solutions are not created equal.

When you research online reputation management websites (the best-known example is, you quickly learn that they offer one, distinct service known in the industry as “suppression.”, and other similar companies, will create new, benign web content with the hopes of pushing down negative search results.  This tactic can be very effective, but it isn’t always the best solution, or the most economical – though the prices are dropping.  There are other options to fix online reputation issues, but unfortunately 95 percent of the companies online are suppression companies.   Anyone dealing with negative or defamatory posts should shop around because many of the companies that you find online want to push you toward one solution, their solution – which is almost always suppression.

My hope is that none of the readers of my blog will ever have to deal with a defamatory, online attack. But if you do, research your options — and don’t just reach for a hammer.


Author: John P. David

Three Reasons to Apply for Business Awards


At some point in the recent past, it became popular to include one’s awards and accolades in your e-mail signature.  It’s now common to finish reading an e-mail and then notice that the sender’s company is a “Great Place to Work” or a member of the (insert trade magazine here) “Top 100.”  While I don’t like to see e-mail monikers overwhelmed by such plaudits, I must admit that I’m a fan of awards.  I think they make good business sense for a number of reasons, and here are my top three.

  1. It’s not bragging if someone else says it.  Third party validation carries weight in business.  Sure, you can announce how amazing your company is, but when a third party says it, your credibility gets a bigger bump.  Awards and other recognition offer a compliment which sounds much better when someone else says it.  Company awards also can help boost morale as they offer recognition for employees and their efforts.   Awards also hearten owners, investors and other interested parties.  Further, prospective clients and future employees are often more likely to consider a company that is viewed as being one of the top in its field.  Once you have won the award, make sure you promote it on your website, through your social media channels and with a news release.
  2. Make your clients/partners look good.  In some industries (PR for one), the best awards are for work you do on behalf of your clients.  Ad agencies are another prime example.  The agency for Anheuser Busch may win an award for a campaign yet the brewer gets credit too.  If your company does an “award-worthy” job for one of its clients, then you can bet the client will be happy to also get a trophy.  In my experience, aside from getting joy from calling a client and telling them that we won an award for the work we did on their behalf, it also helps bolster the relationship because most award-winning efforts build camaraderie between client and contractor/agency/vendor.   An award earned on behalf of a client also validates the quality of the work.
  3. Prove that you are, in fact, “best of (blank)“  Companies spend a great deal of time and energy  to position their products and offerings in the best possible light.  However, repeatedly saying that your stuff is the best – “state-of-the-art” this and “best-of-breed” that — does not constitute a strong marketing message.  However, if your company or product is lauded by others as, in fact, “the best,” then you have something to promote.  In a time when everyone is saying they are the best, awards and recognition can help a company distinguish itself.  This is particularly valuable for businesses that offer less tangible services. 

Awards also can be used to help solve business and communications challenges.  For example, while consulting with a company that was struggling to find high quality job applicants, we helped them apply to become a “Best Place to Work” as awarded by Fortune.  We also have recommended that attorneys work to secure awards and recognition.  Lawyers often have difficulty distinguishing themselves from competitors because they are selling an intangible service.  Being recognized as one of the top lawyers in their geographic area can be a tremendous asset.

If you are interested in applying for awards for your company, my recommendation is to start by researching local business and trade publications.  For example, American City Business Journals has 40 publications in markets throughout the country and most have geographic and industry specific awards and listing programs.  Also, many trade publications sponsor award programs, so it is likely that the “bible” of your industry offers awards.  And you can also seek them out via that gizmo called the Internet.

Once you have identified relevant awards, create a schedule with the deadlines, requirements and budgets (alas, one must typically pay to enter).  Take on a few awards to get started and soon your e-mail signature will be overflowing with accolades.


Author: John P. David

Just Spell My Stock Symbol Right


One day last week, my wife called me and she was aghast regarding the story of Josh Hardy, a seven-year-old cancer survivor from Virginia who is suffering from a severe infection due to his weakened immune system. There’s a drug in development that can treat Hardy’s critical and potentially fatal condition, but the pharmaceutical company was refusing to give the medicine to the kid. 

Brincidofovir, an experimental drug from a company called Chimerix, has yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.  However, under a policy known as “compassionate use,” the FDA can approve the use of experimental drugs in situations like the one facing Hardy.  Chimerix said no.

The company could have quietly been the hero, but Chimerix chose to, rather vocally, turn down Hardy’s request for compassionate use. 

His parents then began a social media campaign which quickly went viral – which explains why my wife was spitting mad at Chimerix’s CEO.  This is just one reason not to get between Moms and their kid’s medicine.

Ever playing the devil’s advocate, I reviewed the stories online while Mrs. David attacked corporate greed.  The company made some interesting arguments.  First, the treatment is expensive and someone would have to pay for it.  Second, Chimerix, though publicly traded, is not yet profitable and it has been working on getting this product to market for years.  Figuring out how to treat Hardy, the company argued, would slow down its ability to treat others.  This “needs of the many vs. needs of the few” argument, though Star Trek-esque, was actually compelling to me as a business person.

Many national media outlets weighed-in and Chimerix and its CEO Kenneth Moch were getting crucified.  Moch was firmly on the record, telling CNN he wouldn’t back down from his decision to not to give Hardy the drug.

Moch explained to media outlets that other children had applied for compassionate use exemptions to take the experimental drug, but the company was initially worried about how it could ethically say yes to Hardy and no to others.  Moch had said that prescribing the drug outside of its safety and efficacy trials could derail the drug approval process.  The company has been working on it for 14 years.

Eventually, Chimerix relented and announced that it had worked out a way to start a new FDA-sponsored trial that would include Hardy – the boy would get the drug.  There was much rejoicing.

But is this just another case of public pressure influencing a company’s behavior?  Is this another success story?  I’m not so sure.

The typical PR guy advice in such situations is that companies need to monitor social media mentions and look for ways to put out the fire of a public relations crisis like this one quickly.  When USA Today is calling your company dispassionate, you ought to look closely at your behavior for fear of public backlash.

And is your CEO crazy to be out-front on this situation and publicly deny a dying boy a chance to live?  Or crazy like a fox?

Sometimes the theory of any PR is good PR makes sense.  And in this case, negative PR is actually great PR.  Here’s why:

  1. Few outside of the biomedical community had heard of Chimerix or its drug.  By turning down Hardy, the company made national news – driving attention to the company and its offerings.  It’s cold-blooded, but so is business.
  2. The FDA was in the cross hairs too and Chimerix appeared to have used this to its advantage.  Although it took a few body blows in the beginning, the company worked out a solution which worked for the drug maker and the FDA.
  3. While lambasting Chimerex, the media was treating its product, the “officially unproven” Brincidofovir, like a miracle cure.  Most companies will be OK with an image hit if its product gets the halo treatment as a counter balance.

In the end, there were many winners.  Hardy got his meds and is reported to be improving.  Chimerix was lauded as a belated hero by Hardy’s parents.  And the company’s stock price, which was trading at around $19 before the controversy began, closed north of $26 yesterday.

While I can’t argue for corporate dispassion on a regular basis, sometimes taking a PR hit can yield positive business results.  Whether Chimerix did this on purpose is open for debate, but it’s tough to argue with the results.


Author: John P. David