Where Branding Begins

EZTDBW croppedI once had a client which had an internal mantra that was usually only visible sporadically in company offices, or buried in the content of internal company newsletters. It was the acronym, “EZTDBW.”

It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?

It stood for the words, “Easy To Do Business With.” In spite of its poor grammar, the term and its acronym was the heart of a very successful and well-loved company.

“Easy to do business with.”

It wasn’t an ad slogan. It wasn’t on the side of the company’s vehicles or plastered throughout company facilities on banners and posters.   I first noticed it on the desk of one company manager in the form of a 1950s-style desk name plate.  His name wasn’t on the plate. It was the EZTDBW acronym stenciled in an everyday Arial font, white on faux wood grain.

“What’s that mean?,” I asked.

My client told me it’s their company philosophy. Everyone in the company, from the CEO to the loading dock workers are expected to do everything possible, every day to make their company “easy to do business with.”  Internally, everyone in the organization was expected to make working with each other “easy to do business with.”  This was their one uncompromising rule.

It was that simple and that brilliant, mainly because the organization lived it.

It didn’t matter that the acronym wasn’t branded in ways we’re used to seeing – four-color posters, professional graphics, design and photography, online pages and groups, or a tie-in to an external marketing campaign. These are all reliable, effective and can be required tools of the branding trade.

But what this company understood was that before all of that, it had to be committed to putting quality service, responsiveness and flexibility.  Its premise was that if it could do this with consistency, it could build and maintain a strong work force and an infrastructure that ensured client satisfaction to drive business growth. It did all of that and more.

The company was unique in its sector, defying industry norms in the way it managed its work force and served its customers. As a result, it became a leader for its innovation, service quality and growth.

The lessons for me had mostly to do with where true branding begins. It starts with an organization’s operating philosophy and its discipline in staying true to that philosophy.    To build the brand, the philosophy had to be integrated into everything the organization did without exception.

The customer had to see it and feel it, even if not aware of the actual words or acronyms used to coalesce the work force behind the vision. Other constituents and stakeholders had to also see the benefits.  Internally, employees had to see the philosophy as a genuine commitment to everyone and everything the organization touched.

For any organization, that is where branding begins. From there, all graphic identity, marketing, internal communications, online and digital, external marketing, investor relations programs must reinforce this brand.  All must work together to bring that philosophy to life – real, strong and powerful.

For a strong brand, a strong operating philosophy is at the core, and it must drive all efforts to define that brand for all internal and external stakeholders.

What They Don’t Teach PR Majors in College

Tshutterstock_124981016his past week, another class of PR majors graduated from their respective colleges and are now doing their best to transition into the work force, or as their parents like to call it, “the real world.”

As has been the case for decades, regardless of generational label, some will do better than others. Millennial graduates who succeed will more than likely do the same things that successful Gen-X graduates and Baby Boomer graduates did.

On the other hand, some graduates will have relied only on their coursework to prepare them for a career in public relations, and if they did they are already behind. Unfortunately, too many still receive their diplomas without having had a PR internship, which is often the first way to get practical communications experience and exposure to the way things really get done.

Yes, they took all of the requisite communications courses (and probably not enough on journalistic writing). Yes, they took a semester in Europe.  And yes, they are digital natives, meaning social media is second nature to them.  Their resumes are filled with mentions of how they served on campus organization committees and dance marathons, but no matter how those experiences make the graduates feel about themselves and their public relations talents, those experiences more often than not did not teach undergraduates how to work within standing organizations and companies with their own protocols, processes and missions.

In short, what college did not teach these PR graduates is what it could not teach – the soft skills of PR. So what are they?

The Simple Things – Be on time for work, be early for every meeting, listen before speaking, and sometimes do not speak, especially when you disagree or think you know better.  Wait for the right time and the right place.   Know that when you call off or miss a meeting, you may miss an opportunity.  Accept the consequences of your actions.  Don’t be known as a complainer. Dress the part of who you want to be.  Don’t stay after work for show, it’s obvious. Don’t leave important work unfinished at the end of the regular work day.  That’s just as obvious.

Know that the Workplace is not a Democracy – Whether it’s a large company, PR agency, or a small nonprofit organization, management hierarchy requires a chain of command. This is for communication, decision-making and accountabilities.  While various organizations and managers may have a wide range of styles, some more people-friendly than others, all adhere to the assumption that the boss’s decision (or the client’s decision) is final.  There is no second-guessing the decision-maker once he or she has made that decision.  Your only choice is whether you will meet those expectations or not.

Don’t Take Criticism Personally – One of the most difficult transitions new PR hires often make is taking criticism personally.  In fact, the criticism you get may be very personal in every way but one – context.  You may be told about your appearance, your energy level, your listening skills, your writing skills or your analytical skills. All are almost inseparable from your personal style, so for that reason, it can feel very personal. But the main thing is to know that all of it is coming your way in the context of how it affects your work.  What you are really being told is that the basis for all criticism is to get you to modify your approach to be more effective as a professional and within the organization.  Rather than take the criticism personally, embrace it as an opportunity for change and self-improvement.    Once you do that, future criticism won’t have the same sting, and you’ll probably find you receive less of it.

Don’t Expect Anything – Once you join a company or PR firm as an employee, it’s not up to that organization to meet your expectations.  It’s the other way around. It’s up to you to meet the expectations of your organization’s customers, donors, managers, other employees and other constituents.  If you work in PR or in the communications function, you must be effective at media relations and other disciplines.  Don’t expect recognition or praise. Don’t expect a promotion simply because you have a year’s more experience than the next person. The PR business is merit-based, meaning  you have to earn praise, recognition and promotions. And even then, they may not come when you think you deserve them most.  Learn how the organization works and follow the unsaid rules. Be persistent. Be patient. Be smart. Focus on delivering quality work and results.  Put the client’s needs first.  That’s how you’ll get what you want and what you think you deserve.

Revisiting the Core Values of the St. Patrick’s Day Brand

This year will be the seventh Pittsburgh St. Patrick’s Day Parade where I’ve handled PR and communications, and it’s a labor of love, to be sure.shutterstock_255701698

Over the past seven years, I’ve been reminded of something we often preach in communications. “Let’s get back to the core values of the brand.”

Brands all over have a tendency to stray from their roots, particularly as they grow in popularity. The growth takes on a life of its own.  The brand evolves with its appeal.  Consumers or the community at large come to redefine the brand on their own terms.

St. Patrick’s Day is a good example of this. For many, particularly in America, St. Patrick’s Day is all about the wearin’ o’ the green and a party.  All too often, the holiday plays upon a negative stereotype of the Irish that is unapologetically perpetuated on T-shirts, buttons and hats sold in stores from coast to coast.

So, it is with this in mind, that I thought now might be a good time to revisit the core values of the St. Patrick’s Day brand, simply by learning a little more about the man who started it all. Saint Patrick Himself.

  • At 16, he was abducted from his home in Scotland and trafficked to pagan Ireland to be a slave in 406 A.D.
  • He worked as a shepherd slave, and it was during this time, he became a devout Christian.
  • When he was 22 years old, Patrick, or Padraig as he was known, escaped his captivity. He traveled 200 miles on foot to the Irish coast, and then made his way home by boat.  Once home, he became a student of his faith.
  • At one point, Patrick said he had a dream where God told him to return to the land where he was a slave to serve the people in a new way.
  • Patrick returned to Ireland and spent the rest of his life there, preaching the Christian Word to the people.
  • As a result, thousands of Irish people became Christians. More than 1,000 Christian clerics were trained.  Over 700 churches were established.  In the process, Patrick, a former slave, became one of the world’s first outspoken critics of slavery.

His words: “Before I was a slave I was like a stone that lies in deep mud, and Jesus came and in His compassion raised me up and exalted me very high and placed me on top of the wall.”

The Ireland of St. Patrick was a land of oppressed peoples, and he gave them hope. Over the centuries, his story and his example have been synonymous with hope and faith.  That is the Saint Patrick brand.

It is no wonder then, that even today in a sea of Kelly green, parades and floats somehow that part of the brand has survived. St. Patrick’s Day is a happy day, a day of hope and promise.

How we celebrate it is up to each of us, but the beauty of it is we are unshackled in how we do it. And the “brand” lives on. Erin Go Bragh.

Employees are Your Biggest Investors

shutterstock_129614810A doctor once explained to me the reason they call his work the “medical arts” and not “medical science.” He explained that while science plays a huge role in the diagnosis and treatment of patients, at the end of the day it was his call, or that of a medical team on what to do with all the information they receive.  And that, he said is an art not a science.

That’s a pretty simple way to address something happening with growing frequency in the PR business. We have a growing number of people who want to advance the notion that we are scientists or technicians in communication as opposed to artisans.

They like to hinge our profession’s reputation on metrics, algorithms and quantitative measures that they argue demonstrates “engagement.” Quite often, I agree at the tactical level.  But to blindly go down this path is to ignore the almost unavoidable in our business.  The field of public relations is about relationships, and human relationships have a tendency to defy the scientific method.  Inevitably, there is the exception, which quite often is the rule.

Personalizing Employee Communications Means Treating them as Investors

Case in point. Not long ago, I was working on a project that targeted investors.  In the course of the planning process, we did what we almost always do at that stage. We identified “key stakeholders,”  among them employees.

PR people love to create matrixes, tables and charts that illustrate our “targeted audiences” or “key stakeholders.” Sometimes we match them up with their most pressing concerns and key messages.

But here is where the silos can break down, turning our version of communications science into the art of communication.

All too often, we try to draw hard lines and make conclusions on the differences between investors and employees. But when you think about it, who are your most invested stakeholders?  Employees would have to be at or near the top of the list.

To be sure, there is a difference between an employee as shareholder, and an employee as investor. The employee shareholder has a financial stake in addition to his or her career commitment to the company. But the employee as an investor, well, that’s just about every one of them.

Think about it. You have an employee who spends more time at your workplace than she does with her own family.  She made a life-changing commitment when she chose to come work for you.  And in many situations she has made a commitment of years of her life to help advance the interests of the company.  If that’s not an investor then what is?

So that brings us back to the art of communication and how to deal with it. How do we communicate to shareholders on their terms, employees on their terms, and somehow find the middle ground between both as investors?

The answer may be in the language we use and the self-interests we identify. Both shareholders and employees have made some sort of sacrifice for the betterment of the organization. Both seek an eventual return on that investment.

Shareholders seek immediate and long-term financial return on investment (ROI) in the form of dividends, stock appreciation and monetary gains. The language we use to demonstrate corporate performance is delivered in these very specific terms.

Employees seek immediate and long-term financial rewards in the form of pay, bonuses, raises, benefits and promotions.   But they want more. They want to know their investment is secure, that their jobs are safe, that their work environment is safe, that they will be treated with respect.  They want to know that the organization to which they belong is doing things the right way, ethically, because they know that says something about them.  In their minds, all of this is ROI.

So when you talk to employees, as important as it is to speak in sincere and genuine platitudes about respect, recognition and value of the person, remember that it’s equally important to quantify and substantiate your messaging. Don’t shy away from demonstrating to employees, in the same fashion to investors, just how strong your organization is, why its market share is important to them, and how customer trends and tastes can affect the future of the company.  Be sure to explain what management is doing about it, how it is going about it, and the important role that each employee will play in carrying out this vision and mission.

Use data, but not just data. Put it in relatable terms. Bring it home to your employees.  Use examples and stories.  In short, involve your employees in the process to create and build value in the company.  In the end, you want more than just employee engagement as measured quantitatively.  You want your employees to have a sense of ownership and pride in the organization in which they’ve invested so much.

The Question for Bill Flanagan: What’s the Driver Behind “Our Region’s Business?”


Bill Flanagan

If you’ve watched television in Pittsburgh for any length of time, chances are pretty good you’re familiar with Bill Flanagan. These days you’ll find him on WPXI-TV on Sundays as producer and host of Our Region’s Business, a Sunday morning business affairs program. Many people may know Bill for his many years as a reporter for KDKA Television.

Bill is the kind of guy that when you see him on TV you feel like you already know him. He’s a buddy. He has that Pittsburgh friendliness and a demeanor that seems to put his guests at ease talking about the things of which they are most passionate, usually their work.

Our Region’s Business is co-produced by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and WPXI-TV, and in their own words, the program “aims to play a positive role in the Pittsburgh region by providing business news, information and commentary in a lively and entertaining format.”

When not recording programs at the WPXI studios, Bill spends a lot of time in the community at any number of events, meetings and functions as part of his capacity as Chief Corporate Relations Officer for the Allegheny Conference and its affiliated regional development organizations. These include the Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce .

On any given Sunday morning, and now at other times on WPXI’s cable station PCNC, you’ll see Bill talking to entrepreneurs, business and civic leaders about topical issues and developments that involve businesses from emerging start-ups to some of the region’s Fortune 500 companies. They talk about issues and challenges – policy matters that influence the economic climate and quality of life in the area.

The show has a solid following. It is with this in mind, we asked Bill a question that may shed some light on why and how the program could be a fit for anyone with a compelling story to tell the region:  What is the driver behind Our Region’s Business?

Our Region’s Business takes a relatively broad view of the impact business has on our region, so we can cover capital investment, finance, job creation, management strategies, economic development, and business climate, all within the context of what’s happening within the regional, national and global economies,” Bill told us. “We like to feature individuals who are having an impact on our region through business activities, whether they are entrepreneurs, innovators, managers or workers, so guests will run the gamut from CEOs to blue collar workers.  We cover both for- and not-for-profit organizations, although in the nonprofit space we tend to focus less on social services and more on ‘eds and meds’ and cultural organizations.  We only do politics and policy when they affect the region’s economic climate in some way.  ‘Our region’ is always the filter — unless the story connects with and affects the future of our region we probably won’t do it.  Even where personal finance topics are concerned, we always interview somebody local, not a generic national expert.  The idea is to showcase how business shapes our region, economically, culturally, and philanthropically.”

Featured Guests

The program seeks guests who can talk about issues and developments that affect the region in some way. As Bill says, “the more direct the impact the better.  We focus on guests who are decision-makers, whether they are innovators, entrepreneurs, or private sector for-profit or not-profit leaders. We strive for C-level guests and in general don’t feature communications or PR people.  We do feature elected officials from time to time, but it’s usually in the context of some event, regulation, policy or legislation that will affect the ability of for- and not-for-profit employers in the region to be more successful.”

The audience for the program is “decision-makers, business owners and managers, both senior and middle management, people who run organizations, and entrepreneurs.”

From the Board Room to the Deli Counter

“I’ve been stopped on the street by CEOs and in the supermarket by the woman behind the deli counter who also watches the show.  What all of them have in common is a strong interest in where the region is and where it’s headed and how they might be able to benefit or contribute to its success. They are definitely interested in our region – Pittsburgh – or they wouldn’t be watching the program.”

From Bill’s perspective, the program is integral to his work at the Allegheny Conference.

“My responsibilities cover three big areas – overall development, fundraising and membership for the conference; strategic communications oversight, with organizational and regional brand and image aspects; and partnerships with other organizations around improving perceptions of the region. The program helps in all respects. It’s one of the most powerful communication channels the Conference has to highlight the issues that we believe are critical to the region’s future and it provides time to talk about them – at least more time than would be available on the evening news. The ability to stream our video online and on-demand expands our reach.  Our mission is to improve the economy and quality of life of the Pittsburgh region and Our Region’s Business helps us to achieve those goals.”

Bill notes that the program, which has been sponsored by PNC Bank for the past 25 years, is uncommon on commercial television.

“I don’t think there are many like it on local, commercial TV in the United States. In other markets similar programs associated with a chamber of commerce or membership organization might be on cable or simply online.   The partnership with WPXI-TV is unusual as well.  It helps to make the program more balanced and broadly representative of ‘our regions’ business’ – not a business program in the traditional sense.”

Our Region’s Business airs on Sundays at 11:00 a.m. on WPXI-TV and is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. that day, and 3:30 p.m. on the subsequent Monday.

Here is a clip from a recent show.


2016: A Year of Anniversaries

2016Every year is a year of anniversaries. Not one passes without some event of historical of social significance taking place.  We tend to like anniversaries with round numbers best, and usually, but not always in increments of ten – 10th, 20th, 25th, 30th, 40th and 50th.  When it comes to 100th anniversaries we have special designations, like “Centennial” or “Centenary.”

If the commemorative event is of unprecedented and relatively recent significance, like September 11th, the anniversary doesn’t need to be an every-ten-year-thing to matter. Every year matters.

In the PR business, we often center some of our work on an anniversary. Too often, the anniversary has what we call a “weak hook” because the anniversary itself may only matter to a handful of people.

And in an era where news travels at the speed of light to smart phones everywhere, yesterday’s news can be seen as ancient history and irrelevant.  A flood of information on new events has quickly put that news into the past.

Case in point, if a furniture store celebrates its 25th anniversary, that won’t matter to anyone but the owners, so trying to draw attention to the milestone in itself is tough sledding.  But if the store owner of the store decides to celebrate the 25th anniversary by walking or better yet, running, 25 miles for a charity, that could get some attention from a local newspaper.

There is no rule of thumb on this but chances are, if you want an anniversary to matter in a public relations sense, you have to think beyond what the event means to you, and more in terms of what it could or should mean to others. That may take the creation of an entirely new initiative, project or event that makes the anniversary relevant and current.

To be sure, not all anniversaries are celebratory. In fact, some of our most important ones are very somber and serious but very worthy of remembering.

So, as we proceed with full force into 2016, here are a few anniversaries that someone may want you to know about:


  • Jan 1st is the 50th anniversary of the requirement that all cigarette packs in the United States feature the words: “Caution Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health”
  • January 9th is the 25th anniversary of when Major League Baseball officially banned Pete Rose from election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
  • Jan 12th marks 50 years since “Batman” began to air as a parody series on ABC television.
  • January 16th is the 25th anniversary of when the U.S. and 27 allies attacked Iraq for occupying Kuwait.  Operation Desert Storm commenced the next day.
  • January 28th marks the 30th anniversary of the NASA Challenger Space Shuttle exploding right after launch.  Aboard the Shuttle for that mission was a school teacher from Concord, New Hampshire named Sharon Christa McCauliffe, slated for the mission to become the “First Teacher in Space.”
  • January 28th is the 20th anniversary of Super Bowl XXX where the Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-17 in Tempe, Arizona.


  • February 5th is the 100th anniversary of  Enrico Caruso recording “O Sole Mio.” He performed this service for the Victor Talking Machine Company.
  • February 5th is the 10th anniversary of Super Bowl XL where the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10 at the Ford Field in Detroit.
  • On February 11th, it will be 50 years since baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays signed the highest contract for a baseball player at $130,000 per season.
  • On February 21st, it will be the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Verdun in World War I.  The battle was one of the largest in the war and pitted German troops against French forces on the Western Front.  It has been estimated that this single battle led to roughly half a million casualties.



  • April 1st will mark 25 years since the Warsaw Pact officially dissolved.32155-1916logo-6-v2
  • April 24th will be the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising in Dublin, which is largely regarded as the pivotal event that led to Ireland’s War for Independence and the establishment of what is now recognized as the Republic of Ireland.






  • December 18th is the 50th anniversary of the debut airing of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” on CBS television.
  • December 21st is the 25th anniversary of the official dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Eleven of 12 republics formed the Commonwealth of Independent States.
  • December 26th marks 25 years since Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Chuck Noll retired after four Super Bowl wins, one Super Bowl loss, numerous playoff appearances and coaching a slew of Hall of Fame players.

Of course these are just a few of the kinds of minor and major anniversaries you may hear more about as we get into the year. Some may be marked by nothing more than a news feature, while others could be commemorated through a series of events, programs and advertising.  If one of these events means something to you, just mark the date.

Some Classic Holiday Greetings from TV and the Movies

The following was first posted on PR, Pure & Simple, December 12, 2011:

shutterstock_160197791In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d post some holiday greetings YouTube-style.  Here are some songs, commercials and features that may strike a holiday chord with you.  Happy Holidays!

Charlie Brown Christmas Song

Griswold Finds the Perfect Tree

Miller’s Classic Christmas Card Commercial

Budweiser’s Entry into Commercial Christmas Cards

Bing Crosby’s White Christmas

The Grinch’s Heart Grows

Muppet’s Christmas Carol (Thankful Heart Song)


The Question: What’s behind Make-A-Wish®’s communications magic at Christmastime?

The holiday season is also known as the “season of giving” for mostly altruistic and a few tax-related reasons. This is when people and organizations tend to feel more generous than other times of the year, so they give to a broad range of charities, nonprofits and causes.

One organization that is at the top of many peoples’ lists during this season is Make-A-Wish®. Perhaps this is because Make-A-Wish is seen as one organization that gives more than it can possibly receive.  What it does is give hope to children facing life-threatening medical conditions.

How it fulfills its mission is the key ingredient. It grants “wishes” to young patients who otherwise could only dream about them.  As the organization says in its own mission statement: “A wish experience can be a game-changer for a child with a life-threatening medical condition.”

BluePositive_GreaterPAandWV_newTo be sure, Make-A-Wish may not be in the business of finding medical cures, but what it does is work to change the lives of the kids it serves.

The founding principle of the organization’s vision is to “grant the wish of every eligible child.”

Perhaps you’ve seen some news story about a child with leukemia having the chance to go to Disney World with her family. That’s a very popular wish. But wishes range in creativity with the imaginations of each kid and the can-do will of the Make-A-Wish team and their supporters who are legion.

I could throw some stats at you, but look at it this way. Make-A-Wish counts tens of thousands of “volunteers, donors and supporters.”  In the United States alone, the organization says a wish is granted every 37 minutes.  That’s a lot of hope.  And it means a lot of positive energy for kids who really need it.

Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia has been around for 31 years.  In its first year, it granted 13 wishes.

On May 5, 1983, the organization granted its first wish to a boy named Bryan who had cancer. All he wanted to do was enjoy another piggyback ride with his uncle who had moved to Texas.  Make-A-Wish made all that and more possible for the young boy on his 7th birthday.  Since then, the organization has completed over 16,000 wishes, each one as unique as the child and the family at the center of the effort.

Make-A-Wish’s Communications Philosophy

“Our primary communications philosophy is to keep the mission in focus in everything we do,” said Ann Hohn, Chief Operating Officer at Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia. “Obviously, that’s easy to do with a touching wish story. But even if we are promoting a special event, a giving campaign or a donor’s check presentation, we try to keep the communication very wish-centric. Even our thank you letters feature a wish story.”

And while the organization works to demonstrate the impact of a gift in quantitative and qualitative terms to donors, Hohn said that, “Nothing is quite so powerful as a quote from a child on their wish when they say ‘this was the best day of my life.’”

The Make-A-Wish Brand

Hohn said the Make-A-Wish brand is “very singular and grass-roots – in our mission and in our fundraising – and we feel this separates us from a number of other charities.”

She has worked for the organization for the past 25 years, and said that during that time the brand has been built through localized media relations, connecting with the community one wish at a time.

Nationally, the Make-A-Wish brand gets heightened visibility, especially during the holidays thanks to partnerships with brands like Macy’s and Subaru through its “Share the Love”  campaign. In the schools, teachers participate in the organization’s “Kids for Wish Kids” programs to create awareness at that grassroots level.

Hohn could not emphasize enough, however, that the brand is as strong as the ripple-effect of awareness that comes from granting over 16,000 wishes.

Then and Now

Some of Hohn’s most memorable stories are of the “then and now” type, she said.  These are stories of former wish kids and where they are now.

Kurt and the Fighting Irish Band

“I met a boy named Kurt in the early 90s when he wished to play with the Notre Dame Band at the Orange Bowl,” said Hohn. “He subsequently lost half his leg to bone cancer but survived to become a husband, father and orthopaedic oncologist at UPMC.  And he points to his wish as a catalyst of hope.”

Megan Meets First Dog Millie

Another notable memory is Megan, who is now 35 years old and has survived cystic fibrosis longer than many of the kids who were treated at the same time as her when she received her wish.

“It was to meet George H.W. Bush because she really wanted to meet his dog, Millie,” said Hohn. “Megan believes in Make-A-Wish so much she volunteers at our office and is here today helping with our holiday card project.”

Francesca Takes Fashion World by Storm

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Francesca sitting in front row at L.A. Style Fashion Week with Glamour Magazine’s entertainment writer Jessica Radloff. Photo credit: Make-A-Wish

More recently, Hohn thinks of Francesca, a “wish kid” diagnosed with a brain tumor at 17. She wanted to write a fashion blog “which she did two years ago at L.A. Fashion Week with Glamour magazine,” added Hohn.  “Francesca can clearly point to the plane ride home from Los Angeles, as she was trying to sort through everything that had happened with her wish, as the moment when she knew she was going to survive. Francesca is in her third semester here as an intern, a college student at CCAC and a terrific writer.”

Beetle Boy Saves Pittsburgh

Hohn’s favorite wish, however, was 14 years ago and involves a super hero. “Long before Bat Kid, there was Beetle Boy,  a wish granted to Michael in the late 90s,” she said.

Michael spent the day as ‘Beetle Boy,’ Pittsburgh’s very own villain-fighting superhero.

Today, Michael says that he still remembers the experience “pretty vividly.”

“I was watching cartoons like I usually did with my Dad,” Michael said.

Then on the television a “newscast” interrupted the cartoons.  Then Michael heard his own name mentioned by the newscaster, followed by a plea for help: “Pittsburgh needs you!”


Green Goblin, Spider Man, and Pittsburgh’s Beetle Boy. Photo credit: Make-A-Wish

That led to Michael being transformed into “Beetle Boy,” complete with super hero attire and a mission to save his hometown and defeat the Green Goblin.

His day involved saving a damsel in distress who was tied to the train tracks at the Zoo. He rescued the Pitt Panther at the University of Pittsburgh stadium.  He even restored the water supply of the fountain at Point State Park.  And in the end, Beetle Boy captured the Green Goblin with a net.

Michael is 20 now. He is engaged and working.  And he has those vivid memories of the day he saved Pittsburgh from the Green Goblin.

A “Giving” ROI as High as the Sky

What’s the price of hope? Or maybe better put, what is the value of hope?  That’s the work of Make-A-Wish, and the simple reason it has such a strong brand that helps shape the holidays as we know them across the country, but particularly in Pittsburgh.

For more information on Make-A-Wish, call (800) 676-9474, or visit http://greaterpawv.wish.org/.


Five Things to Do When Tragedy Takes Over the News Cycle

Crime Scene TapeLast week when two terrorists attacked and killed 14 people and wounded scores of others in San Bernadino, the story took control of all major media.  Cable news networks went live non-stop.  Regular programming on the major networks was preempted by “Special Reports.”  The Internet lit up with information, news, speculation, commentary and even efforts by people directly affected to connect with family and friends.

Through it all, the world continued to turn, companies continued to operate, and communications programs continued to churn out content.  Much of this was automated.  Thanks to a range of technological platforms, we can create and schedule content to post on Web sites and social media platforms well in advance.

We can go into meetings, sit in on conference calls, or hop on jets without knowing what’s happening in the real world, at least for an hour or two, and rest assured that our communications programs will roll on.  Yet all too often, we have seen how the world can change in far less than that hour we may have been out of pocket.

With this in mind, we should know by now there is a need to have in place some protocols when big changes happen that are beyond our control.  I’m talking about those times when some man-made or even natural disaster takes over the news cycle.  These are events that in an instant can change the entire landscape for communication.  And it’s for these moments we need to be prepared to adjust.

Here are five things to do when tragedy takes over the news cycle:

  1. Check your social media program – Be prepared to freeze your social media posts. You may need to put a stop on all of your scheduled social media posts and rethink any that you may have been prepared to send manually. Take into consideration the larger events in the news, and determine whether this is a good time to post. Even if it does make sense to continue posting as normal, make sure that whatever you do post does not send a message of tone-deafness or insensitivity. On the flip side, be very careful if you wish to comment on events making news. The most well-meaning expressions of empathy can backfire if not handled the right way.
  2. Are you participating in any live events? If you are already participating in a live event that’s taking place when something serious happens in another part of the world and takes over the public consciousness, be prepared to readjust your tone. If you’re giving a speech or hosting a conference at that time, you may need to provide an announcement to those in attendance of what may be happening. In cases where significant loss of life has occurred, be prepared to incorporate a moment of silence into your program. Those are just two actions that may be appropriate to consider. The unique circumstances of each situation will likely govern an appropriate response.
  3. You may need to stop the presses. If you have a press release in the cue, there is a very good chance it will get lost in the newsroom chaos of the day. Reconsider the timing of your news release, and perhaps reschedule it for another time.
  4.  Respect your workplace community. When major events happen outside the workplace, that’s often when we are reminded that a workplace is a community and sometimes it needs to come together so that people can provide reassurance to each other and cope. This can be a very constructive and necessary process for group dynamics. To try to ignore what’s happening outside your walls and follow a “get back to work” mentality, could miss a real opportunity to connect with your people at a substantive level.
  5. Don’t wait for someone to tell you how to help. If the tragedy is a natural disaster and there is a chance there will be a need for volunteers, or for food or blood drives, be prepared to do what makes the most sense. Of course, it’s never a good idea to try to start implementing these activities while events are unfolding and people have not yet had a chance to grasp the gravity of the event. But be prepared to respond shortly after, when the need for help in the recovery efforts intensifies. This, too, helps foster a sense of community in your own organization.

Regardless of your organization and where it is located, with the omnipresence of smart phones, computers and live access to breaking news just about everywhere, we have never been closer to tragedy wherever it happens.  Once we understand this, we may be more prepared to respond in the most appropriate way for each situation.

Eat’n Park “Christmas Star” Creator Reflects on Iconic Commercial

Craig Otto remembers a veteran commercial music composer watching the final product of Craig’s first television commercial and telling him to pack it up and take a serious look at working in children’s television.

“’You’ll never be able to top this,’ he told me,” said Craig of the spot that earned such high praise.  The year was 1982, and the ad in question was the now iconic Eat‘n Park  “Christmas Star” commercial.

“That assignment was one in a million.  It was the best creative assignment I ever got,” Craig said recently of the familiar animated, 30-second commercial where a Christmas star struggles to make it to the top of the tree.  But with a little help from the tree itself, the star is able to shine brightly sending holiday greetings to the region the restaurant chain calls home.

For a little perspective, at the time this commercial was created, viewers watched on television sets that relied on heavy tubes to serve as screens.  Thirty-three years later, new generations of Pittsburghers may see the commercial for the very first time on smart phones, flat screen televisions, or even on their Apple Watches.

This all serves to prove that regardless of changes to technology and the emergence of new delivery systems, timeless messaging that touches the heart endures.

Eat’n Park tells the story of the commercial on its own blog this way:

“It all started in early 1982. Eat’n Park was just beginning to blossom into the family restaurant chain that you’re now familiar with, and the company was prospering. Our CEO at the time, Jim Broadhurst (who recently retired), wanted to create a holiday card on video to thank the city of Pittsburgh for their support of Eat’n Park.

So, Jim charged Ketchum, our ad agency at the time, with creating a message that would ‘last for 20 years.’ Easy, right? Craig Otto, then a young Art Director, and Cathy Bowen, a fledgling Copy Writer at the time, lead the project. The pair worked for 3 weeks to generate over 30 ideas, none of which were met with approval. Eventually, they hit upon the idea of an animated commercial, but they still weren’t sure where they were going with it.

One Sunday shortly thereafter, Craig decided to come into the office. He sketched out a star, a traditional holiday image, and then stopped. ‘How does the star get to the top of the tree?’ He played around with a few ideas until deciding that, of course, the star would need some help from the tree itself. In a fateful coincidence, Cathy had also decided to come in to the office that Sunday. So, while Craig worked out the illustrations, Cathy devised a simple, yet perfect sentiment to wrap up the commercial.”

From a communications standpoint, animation seemed to work best.  If it had featured actors and scenes that reflected the period when the commercial was produced, due to changes in fashion and production values, the ad would have quickly become dated.  But animation or not, no ad stands the test of time like this unless there is something more.

Craig Otto Photo

Craig Otto presently serves as on the team at Elliance, a Pittsburgh-based digital marketing agency.

“It’s about giving and receiving,” said Craig.  “For Pittsburghers, it’s a holiday tradition.  It’s such a big part of the regional culture.  Pittsburghers have just taken ownership of it and truly made it a part of their own holiday tradition.”

As evidence of this, in 2012, on the 30th anniversary of the commercial, Light-up Night organizers and Lightwave International, a company based in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania, created the commercial in laser show format.

And local personality “Pittsburgh Dad,” paid his own tribute to the Eat’n Park advertising tradition.

“I’m not sure how many brands could have sustained this kind of tradition for so long,” Craig said.  “The genuine connection that exists between Eat’n Park the local community reinforces everything that the commercial was about. “

He said that he still sees young children, born decades after the commercial first aired, respond favorably to the ad.

“I’m still amazed and humbled by how this commercial touches people of all ages.”