Students expelled from kissing on a bus – were their tongues going round and round?

A story out of Richland County, South Carolina reports that two high school students were expelled for kissing on a school bus. Apparently kissing violates the school’s “sexual misconduct” rules. The parents of the two students are appealing the decision. I just had to post the school board’s statement:
“The district does not discuss disciplinary action taken against individual students because of the confidentiality rights of students. Generally speaking, incidents of this nature are investigated by the appropriate school administrators, and students are disciplined according to board policy JICDA Code of Conduct. Rules of student conduct and consequences for violations are necessary for the orderly operation of the district’s schools and buses. The district stands firmly by any decisions made by the district administration and school board in student discipline matters.”

A fine bureaucratic boilerplate response for an initial media request but the school board must realize that this story has legs and should be crafting a defence of the specific policy, not just policies in general, lest the parents, students and late night talk shows control the message. If they can’t defend the decision in to the media, they’ll have a tough time defending it to the citizens of Richland County.


Brady admits injury, realizes there are no secrets in football

Quarterback Tom Brady of the Super Bowl-bound and undefeated New England Patriots finally admitted he suffered an ankle injury in the AFC title game with the San Diego Chargers.

Rumours spread like a cold in a kindergarten class since Brady was spotted sporting a foot cast last week by paparazzi cameras. Patriots coach Bill Belichick normally keeps the media far at bay by refusing to give any details about his team, but with the pictures of a hobbling Brady making rounds around the Internet, they were forced to admit Tom was hurt.

What the Patriots learned from this scenerio is that revealed secrets and leaks tend to take on a life of their own. Remaining silence amidst rumours transfers the power of communication to speculators and masses and you risk misinformation gaining credibility. In media relations and employee communications, it’s best to act fast to control the message. The Patriots non-reaction built momentum that inferred the injury was serious and they were afraid to acknowledge it. By crafting a message that acknowledges the rumour and moves to downplay it, the Patriots wrestle back control and can start focusing on winning the big one.

Hill & Knowlton Canada information session: a report

I attended an information session at Hill & Knowlton Canada today and thought I would share some of my thoughts and tag it to a new category, “Jobbing Out” where I’ll discuss the environment of employment in public relations and corporate communications.

The hour-long presentation led by Human Resources Manager Paule Bellegarde laid out a history of Hill & Knowlton, a brief overview of the practice areas of the company and the progressive stages of titles throughout the corporate hierarchy. The floor was then turned over to members of the consumer, technology and corporate practices, respectively, who very briefly discussed their backgrounds and clients and then fielded questions from the audience.

If this all sounds standard, it’s because it is. There is a growing trend among agencies to hold information sessions as an alternative to fielding requests for information interviews. While it streamlines the process and possibly creates a crowd-induced excitement or reverence for the agency, the knowledge gained from each additional session can easily become routine.

Nevertheless, these sessions are often the best way for up-and-coming PR stars to literally get their feet in the door of an agency. The hiring practices in PR are almost exclusively network-based which means the jobs will never get publicly posted. So if you’re trying to get in I recommend making every effort to make friends with the HR staff at the agencies you target. Ask to meet with them under other pretenses: for an information interview, to follow up on a session or even to buy them coffee and just say hi.

I’m thinking about putting together a best and worst interview questions post and possibly an online job searching post. If anyone has any suggestions for further Jobbing Out topics please leave a comment or contact Stractical through the ‘About’ link.

How crises are like rabies

Wikipedia lists the initial symptoms of rabies as including: paralysis, cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, agitation, abnormal behavior, paranoia, hallucinations, progressing to delirium. Corporate CEOs and their communications advisers can easily relate when a crisis hits.

A troubling story emerged in Toronto yesterday as a man who purchased a dog at a Dr. Flea market for $200 contracted rabies from the collie. As this is a public health concern, the media sprung into action and successfully reported on this story in just about every news outlet in the city. 13 Stractical points to the Toronto Humane Society who spearheaded the dissemination with a public service release that formed the basis of the reported news. Anyone who might have been at the flea market during the time the dog was present and consumes news from any source has now been alerted and have probably been checked out by their doctor.

The Humane Society, along with Toronto Public Health, also made spokespeople widely available to answer questions about the incident, and educate the public about the realistic dangers of rabies and to caution the public of buying animals from a flea market (from the department of – how stupid can you be?).

To alert and educate is a great backbone of any crisis plan. Although the infraction or blame falls on the dog seller and the Dr. Flea’s, the Humane Society’s mandate includes the advocacy for safe and responsible pet ownership. While Dr. Flea’s has yet to make a statement (perhaps because of police investigations) and risk ruining their reputation forever (nothing kills your customer base like a safety concern), I bet the Humane Society is about to give a whole lot more puppies away for adoption thanks to their cool kept in a crisis.

Marketing music in 2008: Go integrated or go home (and download the songs for free)

I’ll admit that I am unfamiliar with the music of Mars Volta. But I couldn’t help taking notice of the integrated campaign the prog rock band and their label, Universal, are marketing their new album, The Bedlam in Goliath.

The CD, which drops January 29th, is making every effort to gather some publicity momentum while offering enough extras to make fans think twice about downloading the album illegally.

One offering is an online companion Flash-based game called Goliath The Soothsayer, which incorporates themes from the album into a room escape adventure. I’ve learned (through the coverage for this CD/game) that room escaping games are extremely popular, especially as free online games that are shared virally.

As well, The Bedlam in Goliath is set to be released on USB flash drive to coincide with a vinyl release. The Barenaked Ladies, ardent supporters of fan rights, did a similar release last year. The USB release will also feature bonus material such as concert footage and B-sides. The band is also featuring four “webisodes” on their website depicting the band in humorous situations that have been linked to and shared all over the Internet. In addition, Mars Volta commissioned a scrambled puzzle of artwork on their website that gave fans access to a downloadable track when solved and the band is planning a pre-release mini tour to debut material.

It seems as Mars Volta and their marketers are waking up to the reality that pop music promotion cannot ignore the Internet. It’s where the fans are, even more than MTV or radio. They also realize that they are in competition with illegal downloads and must up the value proposition in order to sell CDs. For The Bedlam in Goliath, they are taking the best ideas from recent integrated campaigns (like the Canadian Tourism Commission’s USB drop from Tribal DDB) and are gathering mainstream media coverage for their innovative packaging of what many consider an obsolete idea – the album.

It’s not always about “thinking outside the box” (shudder). Sometimes, the best ideas come from taking smaller boxes and rearranging them until they look like something new.

Veritas fumbles Scrabulous assessment

Veritas Public Relations puts out an excellent newsletter called Touchdown & Fumbles which is a round up of the best and worst communication plays of the week. I’m a long time subscriber and I’d be lying if I said that the format of Stractical was not largely based on TD&F.

But Veritas’ principal media coach, Bob Reid, missed the boat when awarding a “Fumble” to Hasbro for their actions against Scrabulous (reported on yesterday here). Here’s what he said and why he is wrong with my comments unbolded:

Hasbro Wants Scrabulous Scrapped

Viral marketing buzz is worth its weight in gold these days, and smart marketers are using social marketing websites like Facebook to try and get it going. That’s precisely why here at Veritas we recently launched our com.motion division – Keith McArthur and his team specialize in that stuff. So it’s really kind of astonishing that Hasbro, the company that makes the Scrabble board game, is coming down on Facebook for its wildly popular “Scrabulous” application. It’s essentially an on-line version of Scrabble, though by a close-yet-different name, that Facebook members can play with their friends. Scrabulous has quickly become one of the hottest Facebook applications going, and it has made good ol’ Scrabble kinda cool again – to the point that many Scrabulous fans are going out and buying the old board game. But despite all this cutting-edge buzz, Hasbro has gone lawyer on Facebook, crying foul over copyright infringement and telling them to cease-and-desist or else.

The reporting is just plain wrong here, Bob. Hasbro specifically said they are attempting to come to an amicable solution which includes trying to incorporate Scrabulous into the legitimate Scrabble realm. As well, to comment on the communication strategy, we must take into account that the invention and popularity of Scrabulous may be good for Hasbro. It may be prompting sales of the board game. It may be making Scrabble cool again. It may also be the perfect time for Hasbro to capitalize on this phenomenon.

Scrabulous fans have rallied, establishing countless “Save Scrabulous” groups on Facebook. Why Hasbro would look this gift-horse of publicity in the mouth is beyond me. Even if it’s because they’re in the midst of developing their own on-line version of Scrabble, they’d be much smarter to try and bring the two guys who developed Scrabulous in the first place into the tent somehow, rather than attempting to shut the whole thing down. Should an official on-line Scrabble game come to pass, I predict a major backlash as a result of Hasbro’s Scrabulous scrap.

Again, these rally cries and Facebook groups are only increasing the publicity of this story, and how often does Scrabble make the news these days anyways? Hasbro is trying to bring the Scabulous founders in while at the same time protecting their copyright. Left unchecked, Scrabulous may become so closely aligned with actual Scrabble that consumers can’t make a brand distinction. It is the impetus of the stewards of the brand (chief marketers and communicators) not to let that happen. As well, as I discussed yesterday, the introduction of the Scrabble brand supporters vs. shady copyright violating profiteers storyline is almost epic in its effort, if not entirely believable. Yet the story is getting reported almost exactly as Hasbro has framed it. Backlash or not, every news reader now knows that Scrabble is breaking an official online game. As long as its free, will users decry playing official Scrabble instead of its illegitimate cousin? It says here they won’t. Here’s hoping the otherwise excellent Touchdown & Fumbles reads the defence the next time out.

Scrabble to Scrabulous: Cease (7 points) and Desist (also 7 points)

I am an average Scrabble player. This troubles me as I consider myself to be a maven (10 points) of the English language, a connoisseur (13) of words and an expert of exposition (19). My averageness (you might want to challenge that one) is all the more exposed by the feverishly popular Scrabulous game on Facebook, an unauthorized online version of the Hasbro/Mattel classic. Everyone on my friends list can see my .500 record and I just know they’re judging me.

The game, created by two brothers in Calcutta, India has more than 600,000 players on Facebook and its popularity has prompted the copyright owners to take action through a cease-and-desist letter. While I won’t comment on the legality of the game, the communication play has been textbook:

The companies jointly issued cease-and-desist notices to four parties involved in the development, hosting and marketing of Scrabulous, according to a letter Hasbro is sending consumers who have contacted them about Scrabulous.

In a separate statement released Wednesday, Hasbro was not specific about who the four parties are, but said it was reviewing a number of options with them and hoped to find an amicable solution.

“If we cannot come to one quickly, we will be forced to close down the site and its associated distribution points,” Hasbro said.

Hasbro is clearly on the offensive yet they’re softening their message with an olive branch of an amicable solution which puts the onus on Scrabulous to concede. As well, the company’s statements repeatedly refer to concerned fans of the board game who are complaining about the rogue online spawn. It’s impossible to tell how many minions of devoted Scrabble fans sought the protection of Hasbro, but even the thought paints the toy brand in a sympathetic light.

19 Stractical points to Scrabble. You better shake the little velvet bag well, Scrabulous. It’s your move.