24 September 2014

The radical transparency of #farmtopork

There are some obvious "Don'ts" in Public Relations.

Don't tell a reporter you will throw him off a balcony. Don't "reply all."  Don't drop an f-bomb if you're the Pope. Don't be Joe Biden.

And of course, Don't take a dozen online moms on a tour of a "kill floor" at a pork processing plant.

But here's the thing about that last don't: you kind of have to do it if you want people to truly understand where their food comes from.  So that's exactly what the Animal Agriculture Alliance (my client) did.

The Alliance told the true, complete "farm to fork" story, using pork as the example. They invited twelve bloggers from across the country to see first-hand and learn about the entire process - from insemination on a sow farm, to a nursery, to a finishing farm, to processing.   The bloggers met with farmers, with veterinarians, with environmental engineers, with scientists and nutritionists.  No question was off the table.

And it was amazing.  These remarkable women viewed this process with open eyes and open minds.  They have said they found the experience to be educational, engaging, and entertaining. They shared their thoughts online using a hashtag, #farmtopork.

Each of the women have had their own unique perspective, but I noticed one opinion they all share - they all have a much deeper appreciation and respect for farmers and for all the people who bring food to our tables.  They saw first hand the passion and lifelong commitment that farmers bring to their work.  They saw how much sophistication and science is required in agriculture today.  They saw how safety - food safety as well as worker safety - is the top priority.  And they also saw just how nice everyone was.

And so while we can take that last item I mentioned off the list of PR "don'ts", we can probably add one as well.

Don't ever underestimate the ability of online moms to listen, think critically, and make up their own minds - no matter what you have to show them.

10 September 2014

Real men know what accountability is

I am by no means an expert on domestic violence, or how to prevent it.  The pieces I read by Roxane Gay, Liz Gumbinner and Rebecca Wolf are better than anything I could ever write on the topic.

I do have some knowledge in crisis communications and how companies and leaders demonstrate accountability in the aftermath of big mistakes.  That's what this post is about.

The National Football League is one of the most prolific sources of entertainment in the United States. Its owners and leadership earn profits in large part thanks to a special set of rules and benefits few other businesses get - preferential tax treatment, public subsidies and infrastructure support, business-friendly hiring practices, and so on.  They are the yachts William Carlos Williams wrote about in my favorite poem.

So I'm not surprised when the league develops rules of conduct that seem arbitrary to the rest of us.  I'm not surprised when they employ circular logic to defend the indefensible. I'm not surprised by the league's reaction when they are suddenly held to the standards others face every day.

Here's the thing.  There's a difference between saying something and doing something.  There's a difference between apologizing to someone and making them whole again.  There's a difference between saying you have a new policy and actually implementing that policy.  There's a difference between saying you're accountable and actually being accountable.

Ray Rice hit his fiance in an elevator - knocking her unconscious - and then dragged her out of the elevator.  He admitted doing this. The NFL had all of the facts and gave him a 2-week suspension.

When the NFL got overwhelming criticism for this decision, the commissioner admitted "they got it wrong" and announced a new policy.  The first time you do something like this you get a 6-week suspension, the second time you're fired. Rice's suspension, however, remained at 2 games.

Three days later, two NFL employees were arrested on domestic violence charges.  To date, neither has been disciplined under the new policy.

Then a video emerged confirming the facts the NFL already had and confirming what Rice said he did.  No one has suggested, at least publicly, that Rice lied or misled the league.  The facts haven't changed.  However, Rice is now fired.  He has been held accountable.

The NFL commissioner insists that no one at the NFL saw this "new" video.  Others have suggested this is not the case. Either way, the video does not offer new facts.

The commissioner says "the buck stops with me" and when it comes to the NFL's errors in appropriately enforcing rules, "I'm accountable for that."

The NFL commissioner is embarrassed.  He's apologetic.

He hasn't been held accountable.

And that's why the NFL hasn't stopped the damage yet.

08 September 2014

I strongly oppose my recent behavior, part 8,411

UPDATE: The Baltimore Ravens just fired Ray Rice after the video of him hitting his fiance "surfaced." It will be interesting to learn their justification.  I don't know that Rice ever denied what he did - what has changed now that video has surfaced?

Get ready for #notallfootballplayers:
Just three days after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell created stronger sanctions for players involved in domestic violence, 49ers starting defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested early Sunday morning on suspicion of felony domestic violence charges involving his fiancée.
As we brace ourselves for the inevitable "I'm really a good person" talk from McDonald and the parade of character witnesses, I'm struck by how completely routine this has all become and how far we really have to go.

McDonald played football on Sunday.  So far at least, there have been no public sanctions placed on him by his employer. Think about what your boss might do with you if police found probable cause to file domestic violence charges filed against you.

What McDonald allegedly did to his pregnant fiance is certainly bad enough - but it's just the beginning.   How can we forget the Ray Rice fiasco - and how he's only suspended for two games while McDonald may be on the hook for six. Rice held a press conference with his wife sitting next to him - imagine that for a second - talking about how "her pain is my pain" and how he's "going to get through this" and "move forward," but not before he "helps himself."  How he was going to be "out there" speaking against domestic violence.

Because I'm sure that's what women need - the guy who was caught on tape dragging his unconscious fiance out of an elevator talking to them about domestic violence.  Nope, no trigger warnings needed there.

And it's interesting that the official website of the Baltimore Ravens published this:
In his first major appearance Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium as part of an open training camp practice, Rice got a standing ovation from the Ravens fans that have followed him for the past six years.
Standing ovations (and their official coverage from the team) give cover to people like that jock-sniffer Stephen Smith discussing Rice and saying - not for the first time - that women need to do a better job not provoking men into beating them senseless.

The NFL took a step in the right direction when it strengthened its policy on domestic abuse and physical violence - a six game suspension for the first offense, a "lifetime" ban for the second.  This "test case" suggests they need to do a better job describing how this policy will work.

The NFL claims it hadn't seen footage released today of Rice actually striking his fiance in the elevator.  They claim they asked the police for everything "including the video from the elevator" and didn't get it.  This is either a poorly-crafted statement or a tacit admission that they at least knew the video existed.

I will say this - I'm confident the NFL was caught by surprise.

Regardless, I think the burden is on the rest of us to demonstrate that we won't tolerate the violence either.

Standing ovation?  WTF, Ravens fans?