Mission Statement:

I will give excellence.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Andress, UTEP, and Kansas State

We all have thousands of reasons why we love our sports teams. Perhaps we don’t know any other way or it’s a way to remember a more innocent time. Family is a big part of it—how many stories are out there about how a parent took their kid to a game? A lot of these are true for me, but my favorite teams make it easy to connect the dots.  

            Jim Forbes graduated from Bel Air High School in El Paso and played basketball at UTEP from 1971-1974 under Don Haskins. Forbes was on the 1972 US Olympic men’s basketball team that got screwed in Munich. He never played professionally and was an assistant coach from 1981-84 under the Great Man at UTEP. Forbes has been a boys’ basketball coach in town for a long time, at Riverside for many years and currently at my alma mater, Andress High School. He’s taken the Golden Eagles to one state tournament and a few other deep runs in the playoffs. I always say rooting for Andress basketball is just like rooting for UTEP basketball—it connects my childhood (AHS was my first love in sports) to my upbringing and into the present. I hear about Coach Forbes’ squads and it reminds me of going to Andress games as a boy and some of those great football teams Allan Sepkowitz coached in the 80s and 90s.
            One of my first memories as a football fan was going to a game with my dad in the late 1970s. It was a rainy Friday night game, with the good guys hosting El Paso High. We stayed for the duration, largely because I could get $1 off football tickets at my elementary school which was adjacent to the stadium. $3 for adults and $2 for students if you got them before Friday. I remember getting swept up in football fever as a junior high student in the mid-80s when we lorded over El Paso football.
            Jim Forbes’ teams also connect me to Coach Haskins, who coached the Miners for 37 years (1961-1999). My brother and I would always watch the Miner games from Laramie, Provo, Albuquerque, or wherever, since we didn’t go to the games and there weren’t very many televised home games. Some were local broadcasts (Bob Nitzburg and the CBS affiliate) and some were regional telecasts. It was always fun to watch and good to know that while we might not win we sure as hell wouldn’t be outcoached.
            We watched the famous paper cup game at New Mexico in the mid-1980s when Wayne Campbell missed a free throw late in the game but got another try because a fan had thrown a paper cup onto the court. Campbell makes good on his second chance and the good guys snuck out of University Arena with a crucial conference win.
            I like that Forbes learned under Coach Haskins and is passing those lessons forward as a coach at Andress, a place that means a lot to me.

            There’s another layer to this connection—Jeff Woodruff coached as UTEP football assistant under Mike Price from 2004-2011 and has been the head coach at AHS for the last three seasons. So UTEP athletics has also made it to the Andress football sideline, although through the years my Eagles have had significantly better seasons than have my Miners. So rooting for Andress football is just like rooting for UTEP football. Well, kind of, anyway.

            It’s in that vein that I welcome Dana Dimel as coach of the UTEP football program. Dimel is a former mid-major head coach at Wyoming and Houston, and comes to El Paso following his second stint under Bill Snyder at Kansas State.
            KSU is one of my absolute favorite teams. I learned so much, made so many friends, and even met my bride while living in Clay Center, 45 minutes outside Manhattan, Kansas. I attended a lot of K-State games with these people, had so much fun, and fell in love with all things purple. While I never attended KSU (just as I never attended UTEP), I am still a loyal and dedicated fan who shows up when it’s raining and when the sun’s out. The only time I take sides against the Wildcats is when they play the Miners. They are my top two favorite teams.
            I am also pleased that Coach Snyder is a good man. Not a perfect man, but a good man, who has won 200+ games as he completely reversed the fortunes of a downtrodden KSU program. I am able to connect Bill Snyder with Don Haskins in terms of both being good men who truly seem to want to do the right thing. Surely Coach Dimel will bring some of Uncle Bill’s lessons with him to the Sun Bowl-- 16 goals anyone? K-State people Mike Cox, Jeremy O’Hara, Keith Burns, and Jake Waters are a part of Dimel’s first coaching staff at UTEP. Jake was our QB when we went to Tempe and beat Michigan in the Wild Wings Bowl in 2014. That bowl trip has special memories for my wife and me.

            Miner football, to put it mildly, is in a bit of a funk following an 0-12 season during which favorite son Sean Kugler stepped down as head coach. So with any luck watching UTEP football will become just like watching K-State football.

            Go get 'em Coach Dimel, we're counting on you.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Hero Worship

Jon Teicher has broadcast UTEP football and men's basketball for 37 years, or since I was nine, taking the reins from Gary Gallup. As a UCLA graduate he called around in the early 1980s looking for a broadcasting gig and learned the El Paso Diablos minor league baseball team didn't even air their games. That's how he landed in town. He also called games for New Mexico State, and in Portland, Oregon, and in Wichita, Kansas. But he made it back to the border and stayed.

On Tuesday, December 5th the National Football Foundation awarded him the Chris Schenkel award, given to a sports broadcaster who has had a long and distinguished career broadcasting college football. The award seeks to recognize broadcasters with direct ties to colleges and universities rather than strictly national types. Past winners include Larry Munson at Georgia, Max Falkenstein at Kansas, and Ray Christensen at Minnesota.

Working radio in Athens, Georgia, I can tell you what the locals feel about the late Larry Munson is very similar to what we El Pasoans/Miner fans feel about Jon Teicher. I don't know Miner athletics without him. One of the things I like most is that he an El Pasoan, that he is our guy, and that he is one of us. We don't have to share him with anyone. He is our connection to great years, great teams, and great games. He's a beacon at a time when we could use some positive news from out athletic department.

Jon is the reason I started out in broadcasting. I would listen to the Diablo games in my living room with my engineer's graphing notebook (the straight lines were already drawn) and keep score of the game while listening. When I worked in radio he would air check my Levelland High School broadcasts when I breezed through town. I don't know what possessed me to reach out to him, but he made time for a guy calling class 4A games on a 6,000 watt FM station near Lubbock. Surely I was a little awestruck, but he was as down to earth as could be. I've also stopped in just to say hello in subsequent years. When we lived in Alabama a few years ago I'd stop to say hello after the UAB games. He recognized me and we'd chat for a moment or two.

He's the radio voice in UTEP's win over Kansas in the 1992 NCAA basketball tournament when Johnny Melvin stepped to the line and swished two free throws, and he was as ecstatic as everyone else when time ran out on the win. I've read the accounts on how the MinerTalk post-game call in show ran seven hours until they got kicked out of the arena. He was there in Tucson in the '88 tournament when we had to overcome a ton of adversity to win what amounted to a road game vs. Arizona. There are YouTube clips of those games with his audio that serve as comfort food when I need some.

An old friend took me to the 1988 Air Force football game at the Sun Bowl on a sunny and cool November afternoon. It was one of the first times the good guys wore orange tops and orange britches. I brought my radio and listened and it's how I learned Wake Forest tied their game, opening the door for us to go to the Independence Bowl. Tony Tolbert made a big stop on fourth down late to preserve a 31-24 win. Jon was there for that one too.

He cites the Great Man Don Haskins as one of his mentors. I heard in an interview that Jon lost his father early in life and that Coach became one of his role models in the 18 years they worked together. It's a little wild that Jon has been Voice of the Miners for 37 years and that Haskins was our coach for 39. They both found El Paso and loved it so much they stayed.

Dad and I went to a Diablo game in, I don't know, '84 or '85. We sat in the third-base grandstand and Jon came up to us and asked Dad a few questions as part of a survey. My eyes about popped out of their sockets because I knew exactly who he was since I'd already been listening to him for a while.

Jon also bitched me out once when I was about eight. We'd won a lucky number drawing and scored something like a free car wash or whatever. To claim your prize you had to go up to the press box since there was no guest services booth back then. There was no raised press box, it was more like a high school stadium where the top row of seats is directly in front of the press box. So when Dad went to claim our prize I stopped right in Teicher's sight line as he called the game. He barked at me and said I had to move. I don't blame him-- I'd have gotten in my grill too.

He's the soundtrack of my time as a Miner fan. I don't know him well, but I do know him and he seems like a very nice man. The Chris Schenkel award is a great honor and it is well deserved.

Congratulations Jon. And thank you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Gimme Some Truth

I live in a very black and white world. There is the truth and there is everything else. It ties into my not being a good liar. I'm horrible at covering my tracks, so telling the truth means I don't have to invent a second story to cover the first one. It makes life a lot simpler.

But now we have 'alternative facts.'

By now you've heard about White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and his statement that President Trump's inauguration crowd on January 20, 2017 was the largest ever. This flies in the face of demonstrable evidence that it wasn't. It seemed like if he was saying it was true, it automatically was.

There are three things that are needed for good PR to happen. Transparency, trust, and truth. When we aren't dealing with the truth, everything else just flies right out the window. I've felt that the White House press secretary's job is all about PR-- presenting the administration's side of the story within the parameters of the truth.

Now that the truth was handled somewhat loosely, for whatever reason, trust is lost. What are we supposed to believe? We've been lied to before, so why should we accept what's being said as truth?

Nine years ago, Dr. Mohammed A.S. El-Astal wrote an article asking whether honesty is an absolute PR value. In my mind, it is. But it's a fascinating question. From the synopsis on the IPRA website:

"IPRA members were discussing recently, via yahoo-groups.com, a UK debate among PR practitioners where a motion that ‘PR has a duty to tell the truth’ was defeated by 138 votes to 124."

On the surface, that seems a little disturbing. However, Dr. El-Astal did a little research (synopsis here) and found that honesty is not as scarce as it may seem. He found that respondents’ ethical judgments on four hypothetical practices tested in the study, regardless of their cultures and religions, were consistent with the IPRA Codes of Conduct as well as the literature written on honesty. The four practices were: 
  1. Telling the public a lie on a matter of no real importance to protect the reputation of the institution you are working for; 
  2. Telling the public a lie on a matter of real importance to protect the reputation of the institution you are working for; 
  3. Telling the public a lie on a matter of no real importance to protect the reputation of and employee working in the institution you are working for; and 
  4. Telling the public a lie on a matter of real importance to protect the reputation of and employee working in the institution you are working for. 

Dr. El-Astal's work found that, "...respondents’ ethical judgments on the four hypothetical practices tested in the study, regardless of their cultures and religions, came consistent with the IPRA Codes of Conduct as well as the literature written on honesty. Briefly, honesty outweighed all other considerations." 

So it's helpful and reassuring to know that honesty and truth were still held in high regard nine years ago when this research was done. Judging by what has been said since last Saturday, that's still true even when people are playing fast and loose with facts. 

It makes me hopeful that the truth is still out there. Hopefully the trust can be rebuilt because it's currently in shambles.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Blue Bell

At the end of 2016 the wife and I took a trip to Houston to see Kansas State play Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl. We're both big KSU fans, and we had a great time hanging out in the team hotel.

One gentleman we met was a cousin of a friend of ours. He is a member of the bowl committee and also an executive with Blue Bell Ice Cream. Our friend asked him how the recall was going, and he said they were just getting their product back out on store shelves at 100%. My thought was that this was in reference to the listeria outbreak of 2015 in which three people died. I didn't need any real clarification.

I've seen a couple of things since then. Blue Bell's largest plant, in Brenham, Texas reopened in November of 2016. It was a pretty rough time for the company, as they laid off over 1,400 full-time and part-time workers, or about 37% of the workforce. Another 1,400 were furloughed. A second thing is that there was a second though smaller recall in late summer 2016. They're just now getting things back up to speed and getting their product back into store freezers.

I've also seen a writeup from the Arthur Page Society that indicates the lack of a clear crisis communications plan as well as the lack of a Chief Communication Officer. This gets into Excellence Theory, specifically where they talk about the lack of a communications professional in the C-Suite. It seems simple to a PR type such as myself, but many times a company's crisis situation is made worse by executives with no PR backgrounds.

The Arthur Page report says Blue Bell hired a PR firm after the listeria outbreak, and seemed to have very little in the way of active PR at the time of the outbreak. Blue Bell chose to make their website the primary point of contact. Their Facebook account suddenly saw more activity once the outbreak was common knowledge and they created a Twitter account to help communicate during the time of crisis.

The more points of contact you have, the better, though it sounds to me that their concern had more to do with company protocols and not public relations, though the PR activity/response needed help.

Dr. Grunig, originator of Excellence Theory, has a good point in that if a PR pro has a respected voice in the boardroom, this may have gone differently. But Blue Bell is a Texas thing, and Texans have a heaping dose of state pride. That is, they really like being Texan. That and Blue Bell has been around for over 100 years, so they had a bit of a reputation. So statewide the damage might not have been so bad from an image restoration perspective. It might be a slightly different matter nationally.

Blue Bell's real work is in progress-- gaining back their reputation after the three deaths, personnel layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts, lost revenue, as well as suppliers further down the food chain that needed Blue Bell's business. Lots of people were adversely affected by this, and it'll take time.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ezekiel Elliott and the Red Kettle

By now you've certainly heard of Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys leaping into the Salvation Army's red kettle after scoring a touchdown Sunday night against Tampa Bay. His jump led to a major increase in donations to the charitable organization in the hours and days that followed, vastly outperforming the same time periods last week and even last year.

Money going to a charitable cause such as this is a good thing.

The red kettles beyond each end zone aren't new. The two organizations have been holiday partners since 1997. The Salvation Army's National Red Kettle Campaign has been a staple for over 125 years. Charlotte Jones Anderson, daughter of the boss, is Executive Vice President/Chief Brand Officer of the team and a past Chairman of the Salvation Army's National Advisory Board, serving in that role from 2010-2014.

Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett talked about how "Lambeau Leaps" at Packers games are legal but how his team got a 15-yard penalty for Elliott's jump. Team owner and General Manager Jerry Jones dared the NFL to fine him, saying he'd take it to the U.S. Supreme Court. The hashtag #kettlehop is still getting attention on Twitter. Many people contributed $21, corresponding to Elliott's jersey number. I've even seen t-shirts made.

These signs all point to the Salvation Army and what they're trying to do, and they lead me to believe that this was an orchestrated public relations/fundraising effort. I feel like whomever scored first, whether it was Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, or Dak Prescott, had instructions to jump into the kettle, stand next to it or whatever. At some point during the game someone was going to call attention to the campaign.

I'm not criticizing the move-- the money that's raised goes toward feeding people and keeping them warm. It just has elements of a good PR campaign put together by people who knew what they were doing.

A tip of the cap to the Cowboys and the Salvation Army for coming together.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Chobani and Recalls

Hamdi Ulukaya bought an abandoned factory in New York in 2005 and started Chobani yogurt two years later, figuring he could make a better product than what the American companies were cranking out.

Ulukaya grew things to where he was moving well over a million cases of yogurt per week out of his New York warehouse, getting a solid foothold in the market, and even fielding calls with buyout offers.

So things were going very well.

But in 2013 things took a bad turn. The year started out well enough, as Chobani opened a second facility in Idaho to keep up with demand as well as to gain access to western markets. However the dairy inputs (different cows from a different part of the country) used in Idaho were different than what was used in New York, so the resulting yogurt was different, forcing them to adjust the proportions of the ingredients used. This led to delays and then in September a mold contamination problem at the Idaho plant.

The machine at Chobani swung into action, first recalling their product by contacting individual stores for a week or so before issuing the formal recall.

Public relations-wise, several positive steps were taken. They were active on social media, issuing an apology via Facebook that had the yogurt's defective code as well as a head shot of Ulukaya. They also reached out on Twitter and posted an apology letter to their website's homepage. The letter is well-written and thought out, and leads me to believe they had a template in place in order to be prepared for an event like this.

The homepage also had links to the FDA's report and the customer call center.

So Chobani's troubles (and $15 million loss in 2013) seem to connect more with growing pains and not with bad public relations, since they made wise choices to try and keep the public's trust after the mold contamination.

The company seems to have righted the ship, and now their problems have more to do with competition as well as a slowing of the market.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Good vs. Bad

           I think most of us know what bad PR looks like. A bigwig from a major oil company whining about wanting his life back while his product is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is a bad look on several different levels. 11 people died, and there is also the effect on wildlife, gas prices, and tourism, with the ensuing effect on merchants, fishermen, and more.

            My wife and I went to Orange Beach/Gulf Shores for our first anniversary in June 2010 and it was amazing how empty the beach was during what should have been a very busy time of year.

            This oil company had slashed their PR budget, meaning the boss was listening to people who lacked experience. These PR pros/consultants let him walk the beaches in a starched white shirt. A bit of a head scratcher, to say the least.

            That’s what bad PR looks like.

            On Veteran’s Day, Chili’s restaurant wanted to thank America’s military veterans by offering them a free meal, and they served over 200,000 of them. But one event in Cedar Hill, Texas (a DFW suburb) went horribly wrong. From Ian James Wright’s story for www.prnewsonline.com:

           "The apparent chain of events: Army veteran Ernest Walker, who is black, went to a Chili's in Cedar Hill, Texas, to claim his free meal, with his service dog in tow. An older white man (wearing a Trump shirt) questioned the veracity of his military service, saying that he had been in Germany during World War 2 and "they would not allow blacks." Soon thereafter, a manager approached Walker at the behest of guests who were saying he was "not a real soldier." The manager also questioned whether the dog, which was wearing its service vest and certified tags, was a real service dog. Walker produced military identification and discharge papers, but the manager still took away his food and asked him to leave. Walker recorded some video of the encounter and posted it to Facebook.

           So this got going very quickly on Twitter, as you might expect. Chili’s, to their credit, knew they had to get out in front of this and quickly. They personally apologized to Mr. Walker, fired the manager, sent out a press release apologizing for the event, and are working with Mr. Walker to further the resolution. Plus they did not make excuses—they owned their mistake and fixed it. This is what solid damage control PR looks like.

            I am a military veteran, and my wife and I on November 11 went to a major chain that offered 20% off an entrée. I took my discharge paper with me, because I don’t like putting people in a position of having to take my word for it. Nobody asked to see it, which I appreciated.

            It seems like this was more of a random act. Poor communication seems like the biggest flaw, but Chili’s got this right 200,000 other times. Perhaps they should have given people the benefit of the doubt and to err on the side of caution on whether a patron served in the armed forces. It’s just not worth it. Either this was not part of the discussion from the higher ups, or it was somehow not clear. As a result, the Facebook video cost them a ton of good publicity for doing something positive.