Saturday, August 31, 2013

PR is Like a 'House of Cards'

Fictional U.S. Rep. Frank Underwood smooth talks his way through Congress in the Emmy-nominated Netflix original program, “House of Cards.” Along the way, he teaches us some lessons about public relations, both good and bad.

Following are lessons from D.C.’s manipulator in chief.

Always prepare for an interview. Rather than prepare for a CNN debate about a contentious teacher’s strike, Underwood underestimates the opposition and decides to wing it. When things go poorly on live TV, he throws an instinctual Hail Mary pass that misfires badly, setting back his cause and making him a viral video sensation for all the wrong reasons.

Respond quickly to a crisis situation. When fingers start being pointed following an accident in his home district, Underwood heads home immediately, despite being up to his elbows in alligators in Washington. Once back at home, Underwood shows such remarkable responsiveness and caring that he brings the crisis quickly under control, clearing the way for his return to D.C.

Tell your bad news before someone else does. Peter Russo, a flawed congressman with a checkered past, is Underwood’s pick to run for governor of Pennsylvania. Rather than wait for news of Russo’s past drug use to trickle out, Underwood advises Russo to tackle it head-on, framing it as a comeback story.

Put a face to your story. With the teacher’s strike at an impasse, Underwood rallies support by telling the story of a child’s untimely death. This story is broken instantly on Twitter, showing that even an old-school Washington powerbroker appreciates the power of the new media.

Don’t speculate. Underwood goes off the record to predict the outcome of a precariously close vote. When he gets it wrong, it hurts both his credibility with a reporter and the reporter’s credibility with her audience.

Put yourself in a good mental place before an interview. Russo parties all night before an important radio interview. The results are predictably bad, torpedoing his gubernatorial campaign.

Keep your media relationships professional. Underwood selects Zoe Barnes as his primary media confidant. For a while, things go swimmingly. But when the relationship gets too personal, both suffer.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sign of the time for Cardinals

If you want University of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s signature, then you better have a summons.

Bridgewater isn’t signing autographs anymore nor or the rest of the football Cardinals. Head Coach Charlie Strong has replaced the team’s regular fan day autograph session with an extra public scrimmage. This is a radical reversal for Strong who scheduled autograph sessions both before and after his team won the Sugar Bowl.

I know this because my son and I stood in the line at one of them, getting signatures for my favorite Sugar Bowl keepsake, which is an autographed poster framed with a family photo and some Bourdon Street beads.

Strong was particularly gracious with autograph seekers that day. His change of heart is obviously in reaction to Texas A & M quarterback Johnny Manziel allegedly being paid thousands of dollars by an autograph broker to sign memorabilia, placing his college eligibility in jeopardy.

I appreciate Strong’s passion for running a clean program. However, the answer to the Manziel situation isn’t to reduce fan access or even crack down on the autograph market, it’s simply educating and policing players. If Manziel is in trouble, it’s not because he signed autographs, but because he got paid.

I can’t imagine there’s a huge market for most U of L players’ signatures outside the Cardinals’ fan base. In that regard, Strong’s policy hurts his own fans most. Additionally, it risks placing a wedge between the Cardinals and their fans. After all, gathering autographs is a time-tested tradition that builds relationships, especially with younger fans.

U of L Basketball Head Coach Rick Pitino knows this. He has been signing so many bottles he’s probably got carpel tunnel syndrome. His players are signing, too. I recently got Russ Smith, Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell to sign a championship basketball. You can find that ball proudly displayed on my shelf; not in an eBay listing.

The space for a football will apparently remain empty.