Thursday, January 31, 2013

Failing the Authenticity Test

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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

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, put my shoulder to the wheel, and soon had major biopharmaceutical clients on both coasts. It was rewarding work and made even more so by the terrific group of professionals I helped recruit to join the efforts.

The success of the team in New York propelled me onto the radar of other top executives at the firm. After eight months or so, I was asked me to take over the Chicago-based healthcare practice. With a great team and great clients (and with young children and a new house), I turned the offer 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. I want to keep at it.”

“Well, this is the next thing 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.

Dan came to New York office before my trip to Chicago. During an elevator ride we shared, he announced that I was moving to Chicago to the random assemblage of employees. No one ever accused Dan of not knowing what he wanted, or being shy or indirect!

I commuted to Chicago every week for more than four months so that my children could finish the school year. Bob Kornecki (the regional president) 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 for updates on a routine basis. 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 medical device 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 that 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.

Trained as a 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, out of sight, 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 that man 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 thousands 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 let them know 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.