Category Archives: Reputation Management

The High Price of Low Rent Coaches

I doubt if anyone today at Auburn is saying, “But hey, at least they won the championship!”

Former Iowa State University and Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik is facing grade-changing accusations. Former New York Times and Sports Illustrated reporter Selena Roberts said Chizik changed the grades of as many as nine Auburn players leading up to the 2011 BCS National Championship. Chizik was fired from Auburn last season. The report on Roopstigo.com details many allegations of NCAA violations during Chizik’s tenure at Auburn. It would seem the bromance between Auburn and Chizk has long since passed.

This week also saw the firing of Rutgers University’s men’s basketball coach. Words don’t do justice to how terrible former Coach Mike Rice was to his players. The video says it all. All I can say is that he ought to count his blessings that his large, physical players never banded together and took him out behind the locker room. In my opinion they would have been more than justified in doing so.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Rutgers apparently now owes Rice over $100,000 for lasting the entire season. This bonus is on top of his $622,500 annual salary.

I’ve been blessed with four children who are all physically talented and enjoy sports. Soccer, track, cross country, softball, baseball, football and swimming have been mainstays in our house for as long as I can remember. Like most parents we’ve given up logging the miles or hours we pile up in support of our student athletes.

Through all of their sports we’ve seen the power of individual dedication that each athlete brings to the competition. We’ve also seen the incredible positive influences good coaches can have on an athlete’s performance and love for the sport.

This week serves as a reminder of how disastrous bad coaches can be. To be sure, Auburn and Rutgers universities are embarrassed by the disgraceful behavior of these coaches, as they should be.

But think for just a moment about the ruined lives and dreams of the athletes these low rent coaches have left in their wake.

For them, I feel truly sorry. They deserved so much better.

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Microsoft: Macro Negative

You may have seen the recent “attack ads” against Google’s popular Gmail application. The ads, paid for by Microsoft, smack of the take-no-prisoners negative campaign advertisements we have come to expect in our presidential and congressional campaigns.

But not very often do we see such negative ads in corporate advertising campaigns.

Mark Penn, one of the political wunderkinds behind President Bill Clinton, has been hired as a full time campaign adviser to Microsoft. He is tasked with bringing his advertising and messaging prowess to the ongoing technology market-share battle between Microsoft and Google.

One observer of the tech industry pegged it well when he reacted to the news of Microsoft’s campaign:

Negative campaigns like the “Scroogled” ads can work well, as every seasoned politician will likely tell you, but the potential backlash makes them a risky proposition. Microsoft’s marketing team clearly believes that the benefits outweigh the risks, but even though the campaign got plenty of media pickup, I doubt that it will get people to switch. Instead, it makes Microsoft look petty, desperate and overly aggressive.

 I know from personal experience that negative campaigning works…to drive up your opponent’s negatives. But unless you’re also following that negative messaging with some positive messaging, as to why you’re better, it’s ultimately money thrown into the wind. And complicating that conundrum is that if your messaging doesn’t fit into what consumers (voters) think of the product, the reality you’re trying to peddle won’t be matched by their reality.

To wit: Mitt Romney and the Republican SuperPACs spent hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars telling Americans why President Obama was not worthy of a second term. But the reality they were peddling didn’t match how people actually viewed the President. In short, they were barking up the wrong tree, and probably in the wrong forest to boot.

I predict the same result will befall Microsoft and its negative campaign against Google. Microsoft’s products are somewhat newer than the primitive tools used by early Neanderthals. But not much. Google’s products are fresh, always evolving, fun, and integrated. And more importantly, their products are widely accepted and loved.

So, good luck with the Scroogled campaign, Mark. I might remind you that you got President Clinton to 43% on the ballot in 1992, and 49.2% in 1996.

And by the way, I’ve got a good list of potential names for the response campaign against Microsoft. But this is a family blog, so I’ll keep it clean.

Badda Bing, badda boom.

Full disclosure, PolicyWorks is proud to have Google as a client.

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Under Discussion: The ‘Usefulness’ of the Iowa Straw Poll

On Sunday, I was a guest on WHO-TV’s “Insiders” program, hosted by Dave Price. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Dave over the years as he’s covered politics in Iowa, and he’s one of the shining stars in Iowa journalism. We covered a number of topics in our exchange, one of which was the current discussion over the fate of the Iowa Straw Poll.

The discussion about the fate of the Straw Poll is getting a lot of attention nationally, as well as inside of Iowa. The Governor thinks the event has “outlived its usefulness.” The Republican Party of Iowa has responded with a surprising level of vitriol to his statements.

I’ve had a lot of personal experience with the Straw Poll, traditionally held in Ames. I led the organizational efforts for Texas Senator Phil Gramm in 1995, who miraculously tied Senator Bob Dole that year. In 1999, I led Steve Forbes’ efforts when he placed second to George W. Bush, who won the Straw Poll and went on to become our 43rd President. In 2007 and 2011, I worked with the Republican Party of Iowa to produce the staging, video, lighting and audio elements of the show inside of Hilton Coliseum.

As someone who has been inside and outside the Ames Straw Poll, I have to agree with the Governor. My comments on “Insiders” are highlighted in the segment WHO Insiders, Part 3.

We’re coming off an election where Republicans were soundly drubbed due in large part to organizational weaknesses. Many, if not most, of the great organizational and tactical strides we made in the 2010 elections were cast aside or forgotten.

The Governor identified one of the white elephants in the room: The fate of the Straw Poll is just one of many issues the GOP has to address as it charts a course forward. The Governor deserves credit for being bold enough to start the process.

(Note: My Democratic counterpart on the show corrected me when I likened the Harkin Steak Fry to the Straw Poll. Its cousin in Democratic circles would be the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner. There’s a solid reason I’m not asked to opine on Democratic political machinery.)

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Real Problems at the Root of Fake Scenario

The movie “Janeane from Des Moines” has created a lot of headlines recently. Everyone from the New York Times to Iowa’s home-grown newspaper, The Des Moines Register, has mentioned the issues brought up in this mockumentary.

With our state’s “first in the nation” status, Iowans have the coveted role of meeting political candidates in-person, asking them tough questions and sharing our vision with the rest of the country. We welcomed these candidates into our homes, we introduced them to our friends and we established a bond with them that goes well beyond Election Day. We put our trust and hopes in these candidates to lead us, to make our country a better place to live and work.

One only has to look back over the past few months, with the almost unprecedented presence of President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan to see the impact Iowa can have on any given national election. Just last night in his final campaign stop for the 2012 election, President Obama praised Iowa voters for their intellect, their passion and their commitment to the process, Regardless of your political party, those were compliments that should make all Iowans quite proud.

We know the candidates aren’t perfect — they are human after all. But, we do rely on them to have some responses and solutions to the problems weighing voters down. So, when we saw first-hand evidence that candidates struggled with how to respond to voters’ very personal appeals for help, it really shook our beliefs in the people and in the system.

That’s why “Janeane from Des Moines” has really created waves. It pointed out those flaws, and it made those of us working to improve the political process feel like dupes, unable to help. These are real problems our family, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens are facing. We should have been able to provide voters with more than just a campaign’s taglines or talking points.

When I met “Janeane from Des Moines,” I didn’t know it was a fake scenario. I was truly upset at this woman’s obvious distress in not being able to get the answers she so desperately needed. Even after realizing it was a set-up, I was still sympathetic to the issues the actress and the film bring up. Voters in this election cycle — like so many others before it — have real problems they want solved, and it is in the hands of our elected officials to help them.

That said, I have to admit the movie, and my unsuspecting role in it, did bother me. My real beef with Janeane’s (or should I say Jane Edith’s) stunt is this: In Iowa, we depended on the interaction with the candidates to be relevant as an early test ground. It was our opportunity to listen to what they have to say and measure their characters. We took this role very seriously, and so did the candidates. If future candidates come to think Iowa voters are part of some stunt for a movie, or conspiracy to trap them in situations that make them look bad — not real people with real problems — they may choose to stop taking questions and possibly even feel like they can’t be honest with us.

To let this happen would completely undercut the entire premise of Iowa and our status of first in the nation. The lesson learned from this situation is this: It is the voters’ job to be just as honest and as forthcoming as we expect our political candidates and elected officials to be. In return, candidates and elected officials need to continue to do a better job of relating to voters’ problems and give them more than just a campaign-approved sound bite in response.

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Does Biz Speak Make You Cringe, Too?

I recently came across a blog post titled “12 Most Offensive Phrases You Could Use In Your Business” authored by a gentleman named Marc Ensign that had me questioning the way I communicate.

I’m not sure what prompted Marc to write this post, but I was hooked after glancing at the opening line “Listening to most business people talk makes me cringe.” In his post, Marc contends that most people who fall into this category “purposely sprinkle their language with fancy schmancy catch phrases and five dollar words…”

Could I be one of those people? Are you?

After reading Marc’s article, I was inspired to continue his mission. Here are a few more thrown about the business world on a daily basis.

  1. “I truly appreciate what a collaborative effort this has been…” which translates to “I fully intend to immediately dismiss your ideas as soon as this conversation is over.”
  2. “It is what it is…” more often than not means that someone on your team didn’t think of this possibility, and now everyone is scrambling to cover their tracks, including you.
  3. “This is a real game changer…” really means you are overpromising something to your client or business partners, and when things go awry, you’ll resort to #2 above.

What are some of your favorite overused and/or offensive phrases overheard in business situations? Give us “your two cents.”

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The Role of Third Party Groups in State Legislative Elections: Policy Debates, or Hatfield vs. McCoys?

Iowa’s 2012 legislative primaries saw a number of “independent expenditures” from groups not associated with the candidates or the candidates’ committees. These groups, such as the National Rifle Association, Iowa Credit Union League, Iowa Family Policy Center and others, are allowed spend to advocate for the election or defeat of candidates. They are subject to reporting requirements at the state level, detailing their spending and type of activity undertaken. These expenditures are often in lieu of or in addition to the traditional political action committee (PAC) support given to their chosen candidates.

Over the past several election cycles, we’ve seen an increasing number of these groups get involved in federal and state elections. This proliferation has been due to federal changes to campaign finance laws (most notably McCain / Feingold), as well as the U.S. Supreme Courts’ decision striking down key provisions of that law based on First Amendment freedom of speech grounds. On the federal level we’ve seen an explosion of the presence of “SuperPACs”, groups who are not subject to the contribution limits covering candidates.

Some early 2012 research indicatedvoters perceive these outside groups are having a negative effect on political discourse. I have been consistent in my opinion that free speech is free speech, and that in the marketplace of ideas, everyone’s opinion is welcomed.

I have maintained that American voters and especially those in Iowa are quite savvy. These outside groups are free to share their “opinions”…but voters will sort out the wheat from the chaff, as we’d say here. We have begun to see that happening in the political marketplace and in Iowa.

Let me pick two examples from last night’s primary. First, in the Des Moines area, a very contentious Iowa Senate primary developed between incumbent Republican Senator Pat Ward and her challenger, Waukee pastor Jeff Mullen. Second, in rural Northeast Iowa, two incumbent Republican House members, Representatives Pat Grassley and Annette Sweeney, squared off in a primary battle due to redistricting.

All four candidates had ardent supporters. As the campaign heated up in the months of May and early June, however, it became clear that at least two of the candidates (Grassley and Ward) had some very serious detractors as well. The actions of these outside groups had a distinct impact on the respective races.

In the Ward / Mullen race, the opposing outside groups took very different approaches. Credit unions with membership in Senator Ward’s district stood behind the candidate that shared their members’ values and goals. They sent direct mail to Republican credit union members (here) and a larger universe of all Republican primary voters (here and here). The mail was positive in nature, and in concert with the positive mailings from the National Rifle Association (oversized blaze orange postcards), showed the broad appeal on fiscal and conservative issues that Senator Ward embodied.

But the efforts of these groups never overshadowed what the Ward campaign was doing for itself, and that is a key difference to her competitor, Mr. Mullen. The Ward campaign effort, led by Brian Dumas of Victory Enterprises, advertised on television and radio, promptly answered every attack, and had a distinct on the ground effort. They sent a flood of pro-Ward mail into the district, identified Ward supporters, and then turned them out to vote. They organized volunteers to go door to door, drop literature, and did the things most successful campaigns do.

Mr. Mullen and his allies attacked Senator Ward, relentlessly. His campaign missed many of the “small ball” elements that the Ward campaign was doing. And, even more damaging, he seemed to turn over the campaign to the very outside groups that were attacking Senator Ward. In so doing, he missed an opportunity to establish himself as a viable candidate and let those groups direct the tenor of the campaign. In the end, it cost him dearly: Senator Ward won handily, 58% to 42%. Mr. Mullen failed to even carry his home county of Dallas in the race, an area thought to be his stronghold.

In the Grassley / Sweeney race, the approach taken by at least one outside group seemed to cross the line, and take the debate more into personality and family lineage rather than policy. These efforts threatened to turn the race into a Hatfield/McCoy feud, where reason is lost and people barely remember what they’re even fighting about. The electorate in that district sorted it out rather quickly, and Representative Grassley won a commanding 61% to 39% victory. Unfortunately, the outside groups’ efforts appear to have backfired and had a negative impact on the very candidate they sought to help.

As the dust settles on the June 5th primaries, these are my initial conclusions:

  1. Campaigns should know they operate in the new environment where these groups will be playing a pivotal role. Not every race will attract independent expenditures, but many will and campaigns will have to be prepared.
  2. Candidates and campaigns can’t take their eye off the ball. They have to do the fundamental work of defining themselves as if these outside groups aren’t involved.
  3. Candidates and campaigns can’t cede control of their races to these groups. The law says candidates may not “coordinate” with these groups. Practical good sense says candidates shouldn’t rely on them, either.
  4. Doing so means the candidate is blindly placing his or her trust in an independent group that has its own distinct agenda.
  5. Voters are smart. Never underestimate their ability to see through the haze and deduce rather quickly what’s actually happening.

Both Senator Ward and Representative Grassley understood the elements of the new political paradigm. They conducted themselves well, communicated effectively with the voters, worked hard, and were justly rewarded.

In the long term, I’m not that worried about the presence of independent expenditures or outside groups in the political arena. To be sure, there will be more positive and negative messages distributed about candidates. In my humble opinion, however, more free speech is better than less. It may make the debate a little noisier and require voters to filter more messages prior to reaching their decisions. The overall system will be policed with engaged voters at the controls, and I believe we started to see that development last night in Iowa.

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The NFL’s Steroid Moment

Baseball had steroids.

In 1990, rumors started swirling that players were “juiced,” using steroids, synthetic steroid derivatives, and human growth hormone (HGH).  The result: greatly increased muscle mass, resulting in quicker reaction time and stronger swings for hitters. It also reduced injuries among players, which decreased the chances players from AAA farm teams would be called up to the Big Leagues. In short, it substantially perverted the game and blew the mainstay of professional baseball – historical statistics…out of the water.

By 2000, the rumors were significant enough to have MLB ban steroids and their synthetic derivatives. In 2004, MLB began testing players, and between 5-7% failed their drug tests. The results were kept secret, and the hush surrounding the presence of juiced players made the intensity of the investigations more acute. By 2006, rumors had become reality, with the leaks of various investigations and Jose Canseco’s tell-all book . Dozens of high-profile players were now publicly suspected of being juiced, and the stain of the steroid era led MLB Commissioner Selig to appoint former Senator George Mitchell to lead a wide-ranging investigation.

In 2007, the Mitchell Report was issued (having leaked all over the internet in December of 2006), and it blew the lid off the presence of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in professional baseball. With the issuance of the report and the various investigations thereafter, 129 professional baseball players have been implicated, admitted use, or been suspended for using various banned substances.

It took MLB almost a decade to deal with the steroid stain, and it did so only after public outcry and a direct threat to its financial powerhouse status. The statistics of baseball (ERA, home runs, OBP, RISP) have settled down and regained consistency. Fan interest is strong, and once again, fathers like me can point their sons to players who truly serve as role models.

The NFL has concussions and suicides.

The NFL has its own issues with PEDs. Within the player ranks, the term “NFL” is laughed off as an acronym for “Narcotics For Life.” That being said,  the NFL has one of the strictest policies relating to PEDs in professional sports and it has been brutal in its enforcement.

But the NFL was rocked again last week by the suicide of a well-regarded former player, Junior Seau. His suicide, the 12th in the last 25 years, and the second within a span of two weeks, is bringing searing attention to the long-standing issue of concussions in professional football.

The NFL should be very concerned about the convergence of several data points. First, the long-standing idea that a player should “play through the fog” or “play hurt”. Second, issues like the New Orleans Saints “bounty” program. Third, the causes of an increase in the rate of concussions and the long-term effect of those injuries. And most alarming, the spate of former player suicides.

To an average football fan, there is a link between football players being paid bounties to be even more violent and intentionally cause injuries…being coached to play hurt…and the long-term effects on those players after they leave the game. This link becomes even clearer when some of those former players commit suicide in ways that preserve their brains for post-autopsy scientific study.

Reaching the pinnacle of a professional sport, especially football, is an amazing accomplishment for an athlete. It’s the result of thousands of hours of practice and countless sacrifices. For that accomplishment, they are paid handsomely and revered by millions. When they leave the game, they are quickly forgotten and moved aside for the next superstar.

We treat our returning soldiers for the long-term effects of combat. We help them make the transition back to civilian life, far from the dangers of the battlefield. The NFL should do no less for its warriors. Once off the main stage of Sunday afternoon, it should help former players adjust back to a more normal lifestyle.

There can be no louder clarion call than that of a former player who has lived with the long-term effects of repeatedly smashing his helmeted brain into an opponent’s helmeted brain. When that player succumbs to the effects of his long-masked injury, and preserves his brain to be studied, the NFL ought to stop looking the other way and stop making excuses. It should stop dead in its tracks on proposing an even longer season for its players.

MLB could have learned a lesson or two from the NFL in how to control substance abuse. Let’s hope the NFL learns a lesson from MLB…and doesn’t take a decade or more to clean up its proverbial locker room.

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