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The 15-Seconds Blog

  • Don’t Axe, Do Tell

    Do Media Organizations Understand PR?  Apparrently not if the newly combined Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call newspaper are any evidence.

    It seems The Economist (which owns Roll Call) recently bought CQ and decided that savings could be made by combining the two Washington-based news operations.  Last week 44 staffers were laid off as a result.

    One journalist who survived (for the moment) was Brian Nutting, a sixty-two year old editor with over 27 years of experience at CQ.

    Nutting was none too pleased at the amount of bloodshed and sent an email to his bosses and the entire newsroom demanding answers. Both CQ and Roll Call were reportedly already profitable (an amazing fact given the current state of journalism) and Nutting asked why are so many people being given the axe?

    As will happen in any organzation these days — the email leaked.

    On Monday the combined management of CQ/RC went nuts saying that Nutting “embarrassed” the company with his note.  When the editor refused to retract or apologize — he too was shown the door.  That action too instantly leaked.

    CQ Editorial Director Mike Mills was asked about canning Nutting allegedly for “insubordination.”  His response:

    “Obviously, we can’t discuss personnel matters regarding any one individual.”

    Of course you can.  Especially when you know that everyone else in your newsroom is going to be talking.  Nutting is quoted in the Washington Post , the Politico and elsewhere explaining his actions. To make matters worse for management, it is reported that Nutting had previously volunteered to be laid off if it would save the jobs of two other colleagues.  Now all three are on the street.

    The only reason for CQ/RC not defending themselves is that their actions are indefensible.

    They created a bad situation — made it worse — and then doubled down on the PR disaster.   What was a (self-created) one day bad new story — has now become a continuing black eye for the news organization with reporters from across town and across the blogosphere eager to pile on.

    You would think that news organizations, which feast on government and corporate malfeasance, would go to school on what they see and not duplicate the most ham-handed efforts they see in handling sensitive issues.

    In this case, CQ/RC has done the impossible — they have made the government look enlightened when it comes to handling personnel matters.


  • You Can’t Makeup This Stuff

    East Cleveland, Ohio Mayor Eric Brewer’s campaign for reelection suffered a serious blow last week when someone anonymously sent local newsmedia photos which allegedly show Hizzoner dressed up as a woman.  Some of the photos reveal Brewer in ladies lingerie and others are reportedly too graphic for TV.

    So…what was the mayor’s response?  Did he deny the pictures were of him?  Or quietly slip away?

    No.  He held a press conference to denounce the gutter tactics of his opponent and the local police department (which he blames for circulating the pictures.)  The Mayor spoke for nine minutes and did not take any questions. While neither confirming nor denying that he is the she in the pictures, the Mayor sent a lengthy memo to all city employees demanding that they tell prosecutors anything they know about how the photos came into the clutches of the media.

    A local TV report is below.

    We are not sure that there is a PR technique sufficient to make this kind of story go away.  But one thing for sure — holding a press conference to denounce the police department for circulating obscene photos apparently of you — is not going to put this scandal back in the closet.


  • The Hyatt Touch

    The management of Hyatt Hotels has been swept up in a huge controversy after deciding to fire nearly 100 housekeepers at three Boston-area hotels and replace them with near minimum wage workers from an out of state firm.

    Lots of companies have to make tough decisions in these perilous financial times, but Hyatt seems to have made a real mess with the way they have handled their decision.

    According to a frontpage story in the September 17 Boston Globe, the company tricked its long-term housekeepers into training the people who would replace them when they were given the axe a short while later.

    The hotel firm was slow to respond to the allegations and when they finally did so, they violated one of the basic rules of media relations…the repeated the negative. A written statement from Hyatt said:

    “Press reports that we ‘tricked our associates into training their replacements’ are absolutely false.”

    The right play would be to say what was true…not complain about what they say was false. If Hyatt had informed their associates that they would be training their eventual replacements — they should have said so in their statement and provided proof by releasing documentation to back up their position. The lack of such evidence makes one wonder if Hyatt isn’t sweeping the truth under the rug.

    The company’s mishandling of the situation was seized upon by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (who is in a tough reelation battle.) The Gov threatened to order State employees to boycott Hyatt unless they reinstate the fired housekeepers.

    Local cab drivers are also threatening to refuse to take passengers to the hotels.

    If these threats come true, it won’t be long before Hyatt’s savings from the new low-wage maids disappear.

    So how is Hyatt responding to the continuing controversy? With their own unique turndown service, apparently. According to the Globe:

    “Company officials have declined to give phone interviews and have issued only e-mail responses to Globe inquiries…”

    Wrong again. Hyatt needs to make top officials available — on-the-record — to clean up their self-maid mess.