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Guest Post by Riley Communications intern, Dana Fisher

As the Riley Communications intern, I’ve had the opportunity to do some pretty cool things. I’ve gone behind the scenes at television studios, attended a magic show and watched Terra chef Mike Davis in the kitchen. Even when my bosses went to New York for Chef Davis’ dinner at the esteemed James Beard House, they managed to make the event an experience for those of us left at home. By tweeting live from the dinner, @TerraSC gave foodie fans a play-by-play that made your mouth water for mahi mahi.

The snow was beginning to fall in the city and Chef Davis was preparing a dinner of South Carolina ingredients for 50+ New Yorkers in a strange kitchen. How do I know this? Aside from the weather report (which called for an epic blizzard,) I followed @TerraSC on Twitter. Even hundreds of miles away, Terra fans could root for Chef Davis as he served Columbia favorites like Port Royal shrimp remoulade and Caw Caw Creek suckling pig.

Pictures provided home Tweeters with the ambiance at the James Beard House. From the crowded “Champagne reception at Beard House. The trout hoecakes are in high demand!” all the way to “A straight 15 s of applause as Chef enters dining room,” followers felt proud that they ate and enjoyed the same food before it was on a national stage.

To Tell the Truth: Eli Lilly and Zyprexa

Our parents instilled it in us at a young age: be honest. Our marketing professors certainly touted the same message: tell the truth. So what happens when we ignore the advice of our elders? Ask major pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, who recently settled billion dollar lawsuits with over 30 states, including South Carolina, for allegedly fraudulently marketing their antipsychotic drug and top seller, Zyprexa.
Zyprexa is approved for treating patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. While doctors can prescribe medications for off-label uses, it is illegal for sales representatives to market off-label uses to physicians. Over 30 state attorneys general held that Eli Lilly was doing just that by promoting the drug’s possible benefits for pediatrics, dementia and depression treatment in addition to not fully disclosing harmful side effects.  Eli Lilly paid $1.42 billion dollars to end the criminal probe and settle civil suits.  The company still claims no wrongdoing in the civil suits but pled guilty to a misdemeanor to the FDA for promoting off-label dementia treatment usage of Zyprexa.

For a drug that has brought in $37 billion in revenue, $1.42 billion may seem like pocket change, but that figure doesn’t consider Eli Lilly’s loss in the court of public opinion. When 45 states take some form of legal action against a company for its alleged illegal actions and dishonesty, especially when it pertains to health, people notice.

As public relations professionals, we always stress to our clients that honesty is the best policy. As Eli Lilly tries to rebuild its image and reputation, the public’s trust and confidence in pharmaceuticals and big business continues to fall during the current economic climate.

“The Most Dangerous Ideas About Public Relations"

As a dedicated Ad Age reader (and web visitor), I stumble across a lot of intriguing news about advertising, marketing and the like. But the site’s latest 3-minute news brief did more than intrigue me–it petrified me. I cringed when I zeroed in on the title, “The Most Dangerous Ideas About Public Relations,” straight from Ad Age’s editor Jonah Bloom and the Council of Public Relations Firms. In his lilting Australian accent, Bloom covers all the bases: the drastic move from print to online, media fragmentation leading people to biased news with which they already concur (Fox or MSNBC, anyone?) and of course journalistic credibility, and the resulting “herd of poodles following fewer stories and rarely challenging the establishment.”

Granted, the man is has a point. In fact, he’s absolutely right. The newspaper industry, and objective journalism as a whole, is somewhat of an endangered species and PR could easily be considered the poacher. Of course, we don’t think of ourselves that way—we are professionals walking a fine line between rallying for our clients and providing the media with content they otherwise might have missed.

How do we reconcile this dangerous aspect of our profession? How do we sleep at night? Well, probably with the TV on scouring the news channels for an answer. Eventually, we and the media themselves will wake up and realize it’s just another American checks-and-balances system. We as PR professionals will strive to seek out new and dissenting ideas to inject into the public forum, and media in turn will regulate the amount of “flack” finding its way through. Because regardless of some of our industry’s mistake-makers, PR pros, too, strive for credibility!

Mel's apology lacks braveness and heart

“FREEDOM!”

While everyone else is dishing about temple visits and the alcoholism that plagues Hollywood, I’m transported back to the mantra of 1995. After all, who can forget Mel Gibson’s famous cry at the end of Braveheart?

Doesn’t seem like such a great concept now, huh, Mel?

Of course, freedom propelled Mel to greatness in the first place. And I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet he even ate his share of freedom fries while directing The Passion.

Yet, that same freedom allowed Mel to stumble behind the wheel of a car with a .12 blood alcohol level. It enabled him to release an insincere apology and create a spectacle of both Judaism and Christianity with his plans to find ‘an appropriate path for healing.’ I’m sure even alcoholics could find reason to be offended by Mel’s behavior!

Mel was brilliant in recruiting churches to help him market The Passion, so he should know that sincerity is the biggest pre-requisite for persuasion. After all, the best salesmen are not sleazy showboaters but good listeners who believe in their products. It’s probably the only reason why Paul Newman was able to open a packaged food business!

Instead of ringing true, Gibson’s initial apology was “self-pitying and verbose,” according to Christopher Hitchens’ article in Slate magazine on July 31. OK, so maybe his publicist overdid it, but the man at least took a positive crisis communications step by admitting fault. He could have accepted the consequences and recovered.

Then on Tuesday, Mel released a second, more dramatically contrite statement. I won’t reprint the whole AP transcript (there’s also AP video), but the phrases “vitriolic,” “blurted” and “moment of insanity” all made appearance.

Instead of exuding the humble sincerity of William Wallace, the statement was riddled with excuses and embellishments. To regain the public’s trust, Mel should have clung to a simple, straightforward message. He should have meant it. And he should have started living his life according to the doctrine he preaches. But he’s obviously quite free to lead a desperate charge in the opposite direction.

The handling of a crisis reveals hidden truths about people, businesses and even movie stars. Generally speaking, you want to avoid lifting your kilt to the public. Instead, crises are a time to think of others, accept responsibility and somberly fix problems. Even Maverick Mel can’t act his way out of the situation or harness it for his own publicity.

I, for one, feel like I’m skewered on a slab screaming, “TRUTH.” What about you?

Positioning a poisoning

I, for one, have lost my taste for martinis. After the reading today’s front-page story about peach martinis rimmed with caustic cleanser at Doc’s Gumbo Grille, I think I’ll stick with water.

Unfortunately for gumbo lovers, this is a story with staying power. It’s got all the makings of an urban legend: a trio of friends out on the town, mistaken identity (apparently, an employee thought the fryer cleaner was sugar) and horrible, haunting consequences for an innocent night of fun.

And while everyone’s hearts go out to the victims, those of us with marketing inclinations also sympathize with Doug Goolsby, the owner of Doc’s Gumbo Grille. You might be dreaming of martini calamities, but our nightmares are the stuff of communications crises.

For any restaurant to survive an incident of this magnitude, it must:

1) Get a public relations person on the case 2) Take full, unflinching responsibility, 3) Fix the problem (and hopefully improve the entire process) and 4) Help the family.

Ever hear of a little company called Tylenol? They’re only around today because of their impeccable handing of the ’80s bottle-tampering crisis. The company took ownership of the problem, invented several life-saving (if frustrating) safety seals and remains associated with all our aches and pain in the most positive way.

Doc’s is on the right track by talking with the press and admitting fault. But today’s story did not mention firing the person responsible, which would demonstrate that such negligence is unacceptable. I’m not calling for a public hanging, but a simple, “The employees involved have been terminated” would increase public solidarity by showing that Doc’s management also finds the behavior reprehensible.

What’s more, Goolsby’s statement, “I hate that anybody gets hospitalized at your place of business,” sounds cold and self-serving. While the natural inclination of most businessmen is to minimize fault, Goolsby must express real sympathy for the victims and remorse for the incident. He can defend the basic operations of the restaurant, but this incident is indefensible, and he must admit it. New studies show that doctors may be able to avoid most malpractice lawsuits with a simple “I’m sorry,” and public relations cases work the same way.

As a big fan of Doc’s she-crab soup, I hope that Goolsby will have the courage to admit responsibility and hold a press conference sharing new safety procedures to ensure that this type of incident never, ever happens again. I want to hear how he will be paying for all medical bills and recovery days at a spa. If the employees responsible are fired, I will eat there again. But I’ll just stick with water, thanks.

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