Monday, September 9, 2013

Science Denial Part 2: A Threat to Children, Education and Competitiveness


The New York Times published a special Education Issue last week, “Learning What Works” in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. The articles, collectively, set out an array of recommendations from top experts. They include:
  • Increase attention to ideation and creativity
  • Make teaching more immersive
  • Increase teacher training and teacher pay
  • Develop and distribute better instructional materials
  • Encourage mentoring by outside experts or college/graduate students
  • Provide the history and the context for science
  • Dedicate time to applying ideas and practical invention
  • Raise curriculum and testing standards

These are all good and important. So, let's go! There are many priorities out there but STEM education must be in the highest classification. We know from the scores obtained by the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment that 15-year-old students in the U.S. perform about average in reading. Average isn’t great but, when it comes to the math and science scores, it’s practically outstanding. Out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 17th in science and 25th in math. (The 2012 results will be released at the end of this year.)

But there are barriers to success even within the science teaching community. Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, said that roughly 20 percent to 25 percent of the nation’s biology teachers don’t believe in evolution and subscribe to creationist views. Teaching evolution and/or climate change in schools has been hotly debated by legislatures and school boards in states including Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas. These boards should embrace and promote, not disparage and reject, the facts.

Students receive at least some science as part of a required curriculum. But what happens when they arrive at home? Are the lessons in science class reinforced or refuted? In a 2012 poll by Gallup only 15% of U.S. citizens believe humans evolved without any intervention from God. Thirty-two percent said God guided the evolutionary process and 46% said God created humans in their present form. (Seven percent had no opinion.)

And what do the students hear from those in power? Rather than lead the country through and away from false and flawed ideas, a number of our elected leaders are cheerfully, bombastically, pulling the country backward. In Congress, the House Science Committee hardly holds to its title. Rep. Paul Broun (GA) fumed, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.” Former Science Committee member Todd Akin (MO) famously opposed abortion for rape victims, in part, because “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Rep. Dana Rohrabacker (CA) said recently, “Global warming is a total fraud” and dismissed global warming as a plot to institute a “global government.” His suggestion that “dinosaur flatulence” could explain historic climate change patterns was also notable. Rep. James Sensebrenner (WI) similarly amped up the conspiracy theorists when he said climate change theory was a “massive international scientific fraud.” Rep. Ralph Hall (TX) also charged that climate change is the product of a global conspiracy of scientists and told the National Journal in 2011 that he didn’t believe in a human influence on global warming because “I don’t think we can control what God controls.”

This competition between God and science is a false construct and distracts us from the issues. In his book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006), Dr. Francis Collins, director the National Institutes of Health, wrote, “the principles of faith are, in fact, complementary with the principles of science.” He went on, “there is no conflict in being a rigorous scientist and a person who believes in a God who takes personal interest in each one of us. Science’s domain is to explore nature. God’s domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science.” Not believing in a “personal God,” Albert Einstein, nonetheless said, "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind."

The task of increasing our STEM preparedness goes well beyond the confines of schools. It’s immensely complex, opposing interests are deeply entrenched, and will take much longer and cost much more than most people realize. It’s not a problem that can be addressed by a five or ten year plan. It will take a generational blueprint that needs to be comprehensive, cohesive and well capitalized in order to see a return on the investment.

Between blog posts, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @pauloestreicher.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Science Denial, the U.S. and Us


This article also appears in odwyerpr.com.

Before a Call to Action, We Need Insights and a Plan
Professor Adam Frank at the University of Rochester rang a warning bell about the dangers of science denial in an important op-ed (Welcome to the Age of Denial) in The New York Times last week. He stated the sad fact that, “it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact.” Science denial is becoming more entrenched and culturally correct.

This juggernaut of illogic is like a cancer that has metastasized. He noted that, “climate deniers, taking pages from the creationists’ PR playbook, have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. And anti-vaccine campaigners brandish a few long-discredited studies to make unproven claims about links between autism and vaccination.”

How do we fight this? Dr. Frank called on the scientific community to channel Carl Sagan, the late astronomer, author and science personality, and do more communicating (and for the general public to be more active, too). The Equation blog from the Union of Concerned Scientists echoed this “call to action.”

Yes, scientists must learn how to engage and how to communicate. I know there are some efforts underway at institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences and Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science but, no matter what, there are critical steps that must come first. We need to ask questions and use the resulting information to generate the insights necessary to develop and implement a plan.

So, a “call to action” directed where, with what information, in what form? Before anything is done, we must understand the causes, motivations and forces at work. What are the religious, political and corporate interests, and what are their strategies and tactics? And, we must know our target audiences, and their issues and concerns. What’s the right language, the most compelling examples, what will it take to be persuasive? We know it’s not just about the facts – otherwise, everyone would accept global warming and evolution, no one would smoke, kids would get vaccinated and all motorcyclists would wear helmets. Scientists (and marketing and communications professionals) need to marry specific, emotionally-based messages with the factual.

The news media, of course, have a huge role to play. In misguided attempts to achieve fair balance (or, cynically, sometimes achieve the outcomes they wish), the media feeds into false equivalency – providing equal coverage to opposing views when, in reality, one side dramatically outweighs the other. An example was brought into the sunshine on the pages of The Wall Street Journal. It published a letter last year, “No Need to Panic About Global Warming (January 27, 2012), that said, “There's no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to 'decarbonize' the world's economy.” The editor noted the letter “has been signed by the 16 scientists listed at the end of the article.” I checked those names. Of the 16, there was only one climate researcher and one atmospheric scientist. 

Indeed, a few days later, another letter was published entitled, “Check With Climate Scientists for Views on Climate.” The 38 climate, environmental and atmospherics experts who signed the letter admonished, “Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition?” They went on: “While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused. It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses.”

This isn’t just about promoting the truth or science getting its fair share. Professor Jon D. Miller, now at the University of Michigan, told The New York Times in 2005 that “People’s inability to understand basic scientific concepts undermines their ability to take part in the democratic process.” The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy points out that “Many of the nation’s founding fathers were citizen scientists,” including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and George Washington. “John Adams, for instance, spoke of the “science of government.” In a debate with Benjamin Franklin in 1776, Adams invoked the principle of mechanical equilibrium to argue on behalf of his conception for our government’s system of checks and balances—designed, at least in part, to ensure policies based on verified, trustworthy evidence."

We've had one ”wake-up call" after another on the issue of science denial. But it's complex -- there isn't just one thing we should do. To start, though, we must review and revere our history, and use those founding principles again. The nation began with questioning dogma, exploring options, celebrating invention and spreading information. That brought us a long way and it can bring us further still.

Between blog posts, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @pauloestreicher

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Business of Apology

The Shunning of Paula Deen 
The Paula Deen saga has chewed up a huge amount of time in mainstream and social media, around the dinner table and at the proverbial water cooler. The issue, the person, the entanglements are all hard to resist – I'll admit to tweeting about her five times. (Six, when I finish this article and attempt to get some views.)

The Food Network, Smithfield Foods, Walmart, Target, Caesars Entertainment, QVC, Novo Nordisk, Sears, Kmart, J. C. Penney and Random House have ended or suspended ties with Ms. Deen. These actions are linked to her admission (in a lawsuit deposition) of using the N-word 30 years ago.

But I think it’s a more complicated issue. After all, her proclivities have been known for some time. Commenting on slavery in the Old South during a 2012 NYT interview, she said, "They were like our family." Being bought and sold, held against your will and forced to work are not congruent with the definition of family. What a stunning example of a person devoid of empathy. But, even with this on the record, Deen’s empire grew.

I posit that Deen could have survived the N-word admission if she had apologized in a coherent, timely and authentic way (and took a proactive step – involvement with an anti-discrimination project, for example). Instead, there was chaos. A video apology – a “statement” – was posted, only to be removed hours later (though you can view the video here). You can see four very obvious splices in under a minute, which implies that her public relations crew had to work hard to piece together a few messages. You have to wonder what ended up on the cutting room floor! Though she said, “inappropriate, hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable,” Deen actually spends more time begging for forgiveness. It’s a self-centered, woe-is-me jumble.

So, a second apology video was posted. But it didn’t start with any expression of remorse to her fans, patrons, business partners or the community. Her words were directed to Matt Lauer for standing him up on the TODAY show. She explained that her pain “has been tremendous.” Deen then went on to blame “the press” for an untrue portrayal of her and her family. Whether it's business, entertainment or politics, the defeated/fired/guilty often find a way to blame the media!

Video apology number three was directed again, incredibly, to Matt Lauer. Deen and/or her public relations counsel must have been terrified of making an enemy of him. She said, “I was physically in no shape to come in and talk with you. The last 48 hours have been very, very hard.” Sorry for your pain, Paula.

After five days of additional preparation, however, Paula Deen finally made her appearance on the TODAY show. When Lauer asked how she was doing, Deen missed the opportunity to launch into an explanation if not an apology. Instead, her narcissism took over as she responded, “I was overwhelmed. I was in a state of shock… There have been some very, very hurtful lies about me.”

Then, Lauer pounced. “Are you here to stop the financial bleeding?,” he asked. He knew, as did many others, that she was there to rescue her business interests. Deen attempted to stay positive and expressed her firm, life-long belief in equality. But Lauer brought it back to the financial issues. Deen responded, “I want people to know who I am… and I’m so distressed that people I’ve never heard of are all of sudden experts on who I am.” With no regard for how her words and actions made others feel, she went on to say, “And you know what distresses me the very most, Matt? Their words are being given weight.”

Lauer pointed at that, in her lawsuit deposition, she was asked, “Was using the N-word in telling a joke hurtful?” Deen answered, “I don’t know. Most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks and black folks… I didn’t make up the jokes. They usually target, though, a group… I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.” That statement speaks loudly to her fundamental lack of insight and judgment.

But Deen did apologize during this 13-minute exchange and teared-up while she discussed her ethics by telling a story about her grandson. She should have stopped there. In what seemed to be a planned message point relating the New Testament idiom of “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone,” Paula Deen had a sad and disturbing meltdown. She blurted, "Pick up that stone and throw it so hard... that it kills me."

Clearly, her performance on the TODAY show did more harm than good. Before the interview, two companies dropped her. After the show aired, it seemed that her other business partners couldn’t distance themselves fast enough. To be clear, I’m not congratulating these companies. They didn’t make their decisions because of some high-minded sense of ethics; they just didn’t want to risk losing any sales by being caught in the fallout from this current controversy.

Remember, not only did Deen undermine her sweet, folksy brand with her slavery comment last year, she seemingly waited years to come out as a diabetic until she could sell more books and close an endorsement deal with health care company and insulin maker Novo Nordisk. With all the evidence, she seems to less "down home" and more calculating opportunist.

Looking back, Deen and her public relations counsel should have understood the potential public reaction to her racial slur, and taken more care in crafting a less selfish response. Looking ahead, she must decide whether to retreat, circle the wagons and speak only to her die-hard fan base, or make an overt attempt at repairing relationships and reengaging with a wider audience. Paula, choose the latter and show us how you’ll do better.

Between blog posts, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @pauloestreicher.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Angelina Jolie's Fearless but Flawed Message

This article also appears in Medical Marketing & Media.

 A good chunk of humanity is talking about Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy today. She penned a remarkable Op-Ed in The New York Times about her decision to have preventive surgery and breast reconstruction following the results of a genetic test. The variant of her BRCA1 gene gives her an 87% risk of breast cancer and 50% risk of ovarian cancer. (Clearly, she’ll need to confront the latter issue at some point and wish her the very best.)

I join the millions who are happy to read that Ms. Jolie is making a fast recovery. Her story is another reminder of the need for education and outreach, and brave decisions. And, she points out the crucial issues of access, cost and preventive health care (though the discussion is one much broader than breast cancer). As sad and terrifying as her experience must be, however, she's fortunate to have deep emotional and financial support. It’s a stark reminder of health care haves and have-nots.

Unfortunately, her nod to "wonderful holistic doctors working on alternatives" is less helpful. Steve Jobs was famously regretful of his choice to pursue alternative therapies. He wished - too late - that "conventional" (science-based) therapies had started earlier. Instead, he tried dietary supplements, juices and acupuncture for nine months while his cancer spread. I’d hate to see Ms. Jolie provide a platform to physicians like Christiane Northrup, who has used Tarot cards to diagnose illness, or celebrities like Suzanne Somers, who apply, ingest and inject unapproved products in an attempt to stay young, and Jenny McCarthy, who uses the very unfortunate story of her son to create fear and confusion around vaccines.

Of course, people die even though they had the best of what science could offer. Cancer is a terrible, complicated array of diseases. And it's true that some people get better while on alternative therapies. Is there something to it? Quite possibly. We know that many modern medicines are derived from natural substances. But the cures you often hear about could be the result of other factors including poor initial diagnoses.

When it comes to managing one’s health or the health of one’s family, most people don’t have enough knowledge to evaluate a medical product claim or even formulate the right questions to ask a health care provider. This all makes the public an easy target for purveyors of alternative medicines and bogus devices.

So, while some push for greater access to health care, a parallel effort must be made to fund research and education. Dropping information – even crucial or compelling data – onto the heads of an unprepared public, or expecting a response to another “call to action,” is unproductive and unrealistic. We need a massive, sustained effort to enhance health and science literacy.

Between blog posts, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @pauloestreicher.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Morale is Not an Objective, It’s an Outcome

Why We Keep Talking About Yahoo! (and Not in a Good Way)
The plus/minus of Yahoo!’s decision to reverse their work-at-home policy continues to dominate discussion about the company. It’s a clear sign that they’ve not taken control of the issue. 

The New York Times ran another story on the controversy today. Who were their sources? Who’s speaking for Yahoo!?  “A former senior employee,” “Brandon Holley, former editor of Shine, Yahoo’s women’s site, now editor of Lucky, Condé Nast’s shopping magazine,” a current “manager” and a “former manager.” This is not the way to 1) represent the company or 2) take charge of the message.

Because Yahoo! is staying out of the discussion while everyone else is weighing in, the issue continues to churn. Instead of redirecting us toward information on Yahoo!’s promise, we’re left talking about their problems.

I can certainly understand the need to address corporate culture issues; I support that wholeheartedly. But the headline of the NYT article announced, “Yahoo Says New Policy Is Meant to Raise Morale.” That's a big mistake, in my view. Here’s what I wrote in my book, Camelot, Inc. (Chapter 11, Joust for Fun: Dealing with Boundary Issues): 

You can’t mandate fun or good morale. I was in a room full of executives at a leadership retreat when the moderator asked, “What is your job?” The answers from the group were varied and included: “I protect and expand the reputation of my company,” “I generate new business and keep the money flowing in,” and “I try to create a great atmosphere where the people can contribute, learn, grow, and have fun.”

Wait, what? Fun? How much fun should we be expected to provide? Directly, none. Someone’s fun or happiness is his or her own job, or the job of a friend or spouse. Fun, like morale and office friendships, should be the happy byproduct of a vibrant, empowered work environment. 

The bottom line is that morale, fun or a “cool” place to work are outcomes of an honest, communicative and interesting work environment. Yahoo! will succeed if it focuses on delivering differentiated products services, providing unambiguous information, and instilling confidence with visible and empathetic leadership.

Between blog posts, I invite you to follow me @pauloestreicher.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Was Communicated by Yahoo!’s Work-At-Home Reversal

This article also appears in odwyerpr.com.

We have to expect information leaks. Some are intended as part of a communication plan; some are unintended and, thus, may need a communication plan. Yahoo! is experiencing the latter.

A few days ago, AllThingsD reported that the company will no longer allow telecommuting. In a leaked memo from Jackie Reses, EVP of People and Development, employees were told that, “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

It’s hard to say how big, what kind or how many problems are caused by the remote workforce. (“Only several hundred” employees work remotely, though thousands “might be at home one or two days a week.”) Whatever those problems are, the new issue for Yahoo! is explaining its move. In the absence of a planned roll-out, here’s how stakeholders might be interpreting Yahoo!’s surprise announcement: 
  • Some employees abused the work-at-home policy, which necessitated some unequivocal action.
  • Employees working at home were not performing as well as those in the office and/or don’t know how to manage their time at home.
  • Yahoo! leaders don’t know how to guide or train their work-at-home employees. They can’t trust what they can’t see.
  • Some competitors appear to be able to keep their employees on-site; in order to speed a turnaround, Yahoo! feels that they have to be more like them.
  • They seem to be “throwing the baby out with the bath water” – Yahoo! believes a one-size-fits-all solution is best.

The list can go on – we can keep imagining until the source of the issue give us reason to stop.

As it happens, I’m a big believer in face-to-face communication but not necessarily in the 24/7 variety. I wrote in Camelot, Inc.: Leadership and Management Insights from King Arthur and the Round Table, “The continued cohesion of a team can be helped by having at least occasional face-to-face contact. Let’s take the elevator, the car, or the airplane and get back to our base, our Camelot, every now and then and sit around the Round Table for a discussion.”

King Arthur knew that his knights would be gone for weeks or months at a time while they implemented his plans. Yet, he demanded that they all return at the same time once a year to share their stories, hear updates and reaffirm commitments.

Perhaps Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer and Ms. Reses can take some cues – some Camelot wisdom – from the past:
  • Hire people you can trust, which starts with a thorough vetting process.
  • Train your people adequately, and ensure expectations are set and followed.
  • Communicate as often as is reasonable, practical and appropriate.
  • And, allow for flexibility. One size does not fit all.

Clearly, working at home can be challenging both for the employer and employee; it’s definitely not for everyone. But in a world of increasing customization and personalization, they should take the time to understand what kinds of people doing what kinds of jobs can work for how many days away from the office. It’s possible that Yahoo! could increase its fortunes by finding the right talent, not just the talent who can be in the office five days a week. 

Addendum:

Four days after news broke about Yahoo!'s policy reversal, the company issued a statement: “This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home. This is about what is right for Yahoo right now.” In response to a NYT request for elaboration, a company spokeswoman declined, saying, “We don’t discuss internal matters.”

What a missed opportunity. True, it's an internal matter but it's an issue that has much broader, external implications -- look at what's being communicated about leadership, decision making processes, and corporate culture and reputation. Why not address the stakeholders? Talk about your vision, ideas and plans. Cite some research that helps to justify the decision. Take control of the message.

Between blog posts, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @pauloestreicher.


 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Failing the Authenticity Test

This article also appears in odwyerpr.com.

Words Aren’t Enough For an Apology
You might have heard or read the repulsive comments made this week by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver about gay players in professional football. In a radio interview he said, “I don't do the gay guys man. No, we don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can't be…in the locker room man. Nah.”

The 49ers released a statement the following day: “The San Francisco 49ers reject the comments that were made [Tuesday], and have addressed the matter with Chris. There is no place for discrimination within our organization at any level. We have and always will proudly support the LGBT community.”

And Chris Culliver issued his own statement: “The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel. It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.”

Good. There was a quick response and Cullilver’s apology showed real regret.

Or did it? Compare the language and grammar used in the interview to what’s in the statement. Does anyone really think that Culliver wrote that apology? I don’t believe the 49ers PR team did Culliver a favor by putting (what looks like to me) an obviously phony statement into his hands. Of course, the PR people should have provided some guidance and assistance but (assuming they were involved) they stripped the effort of its intended benefit by removing all elements of authenticity. I can’t imagine that his fans or the gay community felt that Culliver was truly chastened or changed by the incident.

Some takeaways:

·       The anti-gay comments were made on the radio. In addition to releasing a statement, go back on the show and apologize.

·       If you’re going to write an apology for someone, at least do it in their “voice.”

·       Acting quickly is not enough. Without an authentic expression of remorse, the effort may actually deepen and prolong the negative attention.


Between blog posts I invite you to follow me on Twitter @pauloestreicher.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Daniel J. Edelman, 1920-2013: A Brief Reflection

The public relations, communications, marketing and advertising communities know that Dan Edelman, founder and chairman of the world’s largest PR firm, died on Tuesday. Many articles have already been written about Dan’s incredible story and accomplishments. I was among the lucky ones to have worked with the man called an icon, a legend and a pioneer.

It was his son who brought us together in 1995. Richard sat me down for a talk at one of his favorite haunts – the Harvard Club in New York City – when I was being recruited to the firm. (Credit goes to our mutual friend, Jason Rubin, for suggesting that we get together.) Dan’s entrepreneurial spirit flourished in Richard. He said, “I don’t have a job description for you. All I know is that we’re growing fast and I need to get the right people into the boat with me. I’ll give you an assistant, an office and the resources to build some business and a team. What do you say?”

Looking back, it was as if Richard was reading from Jim Collins’ Good to Great before the book was written. I accepted the offer, got to work and soon had major biopharmaceutical clients on both coasts.  It was rewarding work and made even more so by the terrific group of professionals recruited to join the efforts.

The success of the team propelled me onto the radar of other top executives. And by the end of that year, Pam Talbot (COO) and Bob Kornecki (regional president), asked me to take over the Chicago-based healthcare practice. With a great team in New York, and with young children and a new house, I turned them down politely. The next month brought another offer and another refusal. The cycle was repeated for a third time the following month.

After that last discussion, though, the phone rang. It was Dan. He said, “I heard you turned us down again.”

“Dan,” I replied, “I’m really flattered by the offer but things are going really well here.”

“Well, this is what you need to do,” he asserted. “And, I’ve set up an appointment for you next week with a Northshore [suburban Chicago] realtor.”

Of course, I agreed to the trip.

Before I flew out to Chicago, Dan came to New York. During an elevator ride we shared, he announced to the random assemblage of staffers that I was moving to Chicago. No one ever accused Dan of not knowing what he wanted, being shy or indirect.

I commuted to Chicago every week for over four months so that my children could finish the school year. Bob Kornecki was a terrific boss; he couldn’t have been more accommodating and helped to make the transition a tremendously positive experience. Richard gave me wide latitude to build a team from scratch in New York. Bob provided the same freedom to rebuild the team and client list in Chicago.

Dan would call me into his 63rd floor office on a routine basis for updates. (And, in between, I received the occasional “Dan-o-gram” – a memo with his thoughts, ideas, praise or critique.) During one meeting he told me of a potential opportunity that came his way through a friend of a friend of a friend. Dan asked me to go out to a high-tech facility in the suburbs, meet with the CEO and determine how the agency can help him meet his goals.

I left my boots in the office on a winter’s day, since the car service ride would be door-to-door. I arrived at the office park and was soon taken on a tour of the facilities by the CEO. We talked, stopped to inspect some of the medical devices and spoke with a few workers. He led me to his office, where we’d drill down into some specific issues. But before this next phase of the meeting started in earnest, he excused himself for a few minutes.

As a former scientist, I love to observe and get a good dose of information to help formulate questions and ideas. Left alone in the office, I swung my chair around to see what the man surrounded himself with – the books and tchotchkes he chose to display, and the pictures on the walls. I drew in a deep breath and my muscles tensed when I sighted the giant poster of Adolf Hitler. “Next time we’ll get it right,” it said in big, bold letters.

It was time to leave.

The CEO returned to his office and I decided not to confront him in that setting. Instead, I told him I was called back to the office. I wasn’t due to be picked up for an hour, so I went outside in the snow and slush, and walked around to another building while dialing for the car service.

Back in Dan’s office – feet regaining sensation – I reported on the experience. He questioned me, said this fellow and his business came highly recommended, and asked if I was really sure about the neo-Nazi materials. I reassured him of the facts, said there was no way that I would work him or ask anyone else to get involved, and that I didn’t want to see the reputation of his firm sullied by such an association.

It was the end of the discussion. The case was closed. Dan didn’t ask me to reevaluate. He didn’t ask anyone else to check my story. He didn’t call his friend to investigate. My word was all he needed. It was trust.

I’ll never forget Dan the businessman, Dan the PR innovator or Dan the person. He helped to shape the profession and the lives of professionals. I’m grateful to have been in his orbit and saddened by his passing. I attended yesterday’s memorial service – full of tears and laughter – and had a brief moment with Richard. I’d like to say again that my deepest sympathies are with Ruth, Richard, John, Renee and the entire Edelman family.


Between blog posts I invite you to follow me on Twitter @pauloestreicher.