Griffin Strategies Blog

Preventing Foot-in-Mouth Disease

Allison Griffin - Monday, June 16, 2014

Rarely has there been a time so rich in valuable PR lessons on what not to do. From the racist rantings of Donald Sterling to the deflating comments by US soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann to the farmer bashing by Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley, recent headlines are chock full of examples of what not to say.

"Well, I'm not that stupid," you are probably thinking. 

But have you ever thought about what you would say if a reporter -- or even a friend -- surprised you with a question about the controversial topic du jour? 

Step One in the prevention of Foot-in-Mouth Disease: Be Prepared. Pay attention to the news and form your thoughts about the hottest topics. Read up on them so you know the facts. You might even jot down some key points you would want to make. But before you speak your mind, be sure to practice... 

Step Two: Filter Yourself. In this era of smartphones and social media, ill-chosen words can create a ripple effect so powerful, it cannot be stopped. Think about what you are about to say. If your words would make your grandmother, your boss, your Sunday school classmates, or your shareholders cringe, then restraint would probably be a good idea. You can also choose to pursue... 

Step Three: Refrain from Speaking at All. Whether you are thinking about railing against someone (the little rabbit Thumper's mom had it right when she taught, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.") or just trying to demonstrate your knowledge of something about which you know nothing (think of Jimmy Kimmel's Lie Witness News interviews), you do have a choice. Speaking out is not a requirement. In fact, you might be well advised to refrain from speaking at all, especially if you are tired or have been enjoying a beer. 

In this world of hidden cameras, social media and viral videos, stick to talking about what you know and avoid talking about what you know could land you in trouble. Your reputation is too important to be sloppy and create your own public relations crisis. 

Navigating an Unexpected Adventure: From LinkedIn to Editors to Actors, Griffin Strategies' Team Wears Many Hats

Katie Simon - Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In the world of PR and communications, it’s funny how something can start off as a simple project and lead you on an unexpected adventure. The Griffin Strategies team is known to wear many hats, but after recently finding ourselves on the set of a “submarine” for a full-length movie, we realized just how often we are called to navigate through uncharted waters with our clients.

It all started with a LinkedIn invitation last June. Throughout the course of my writing and editing career, I’ve managed to take on the role of copy editor in each position, and as a result, had those experiences listed on my profile. (Note to those of you who don’t see the value of LinkedIn – keywords are a powerful tool that will help people find you!) Our now-client David Sullivan was searching for copy editors in Dallas and stumbled upon my LinkedIn profile.

A little background on David Sullivan: David is a member of the DFW Association for Psychological Type, which focuses on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for different personality types. David is currently producing a full-length film, “Christmas With Winston,” to be used for training purposes within companies to help build self-awareness and understanding of others within the context of multiple business operational challenges.

David approached us with a simple request – to have Griffin Strategies copy edit rough scripts he’d written for the film. So we put on our editor hats and were happy to help. But what started as a very narrow scope began to expand into other areas. Could we look at this training module and see if it makes sense? Of course. We put on our consulting hats and offered some advice. Then after giving each of us an MBTI personality test, he offered us a chance to climb aboard his big adventure, asking if we would like to be actors in his film. So, for the first time since ninth grade, I brushed the dust off my old acting hat and wore it alongside Allison a couple of weekends back.

I think we surprised ourselves that day. According to David, we did a pretty decent job in our acting gigs as sailors aboard a submarine in the midst of stressful conditions and with a big mission to fulfill. He’s already planning the next scene for us. And Allison and I are looking forward to the next part of the journey!

This experience makes me think there’s something to be said about the relationships we build with our clients. David isn’t the first to come to us with a simple request that has ballooned into something much more involved. As PR professionals, clients depend on our expertise to guide them through every step – even for processes they have yet to think up. We, in turn, are open to new opportunities and new adventures that come with this career, performing our due diligence and doing our very best to steer our clients down the right path.

By the way – if your company’s HR team is someday watching “Christmas With Winston,” keep an eye out for two PR professionals steering a submarine!

If you can't laugh at yourself, then who can you laugh at?

Katie Simon - Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Every once in a while, there are moments so humiliating and reputation damaging that it’s difficult to foresee any possible way to fix the viral media sensation you’ve created. Last Sunday, the country cringed in unison as 2013 Miss Utah Marissa Powell gave quite possibly the worst response to a Miss USA interview question since the “everywhere like such as” answer Miss Teen USA South Carolina gave during her interview in 2007.

In case you missed Sunday’s round of Miss USA events, Powell was asked to answer a seemingly simple question: A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society? Her response:

“I think we can relate this back to education and how we are continuing to try to strive to... figure out how to create jobs right now. That’s the biggest problem and I think, especially the men, are, uh, seen as the leaders of this and so we need to try and figure out how to create education better so we can solve this problem.”

It was certainly not Miss Powell’s brightest moment. Was it personal humiliation? Absolutely. Could she have let it define her, and thus potentially ruin her future career? No doubt about it. But let it define her, she did not. Three days later, TV personality Jimmy Kimmel invited Powell onto his show, where she cleverly redeemed herself – in song, and she had the chance to explain her fumbled answer on the “Today” show.

How you handle a situation is how you define yourself, and in this case, Powell set a perfect example for how PR professionals should handle their clients’ not-so-shining moments. Rather than hide from it, bury it and hope everyone forgets (they won’t), or let it build up beyond the point of no return, Powell decided to tackle her slip-up head on, and that’s exactly what we as PR professionals sometimes have to remind our clients -- and ourselves -- to do as well. Be honest, explain yourself without over-excusing yourself, and don’t take yourself too seriously. As Tiger Woods said after his far worse moments of humiliation, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, then who can you laugh at?”


Social Media vs. Traditional Media: Competing or Complementary Channels?

Allison Griffin - Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Remember when Americans got their news from the morning paper, a crackling radio report, or Walter Cronkite’s familiar face on the TV set? Back then, Americans got most of their information straight from the mouths of the well-respected news media.

Fast forward a few decades.  How do you get your information?  Are you more likely to get the scoop from a newspaper or the nightly news, or do you hear it hours earlier from someone’s post on Facebook or Twitter?

For a growing number of Americans, the answer is the latter. 

The world of communication is changing rapidly, thrusting credit union marketing and PR professionals into a quandary: do we keep reaching out to people in the traditional ways or do we move to an entirely new approach?

The answer? Both.

More Americans rely on digital news sources

According to a 2010 Pew survey, sixty-one percent of Americans seek out news online, and three-quarters said they get news forwarded via email or posts on social network sites.

Meanwhile, a 2010 Gallup poll found that only one in four Americans said they have “a lot of confidence” in the mainstream media.    

Perhaps most compelling us communicators, 37 percent of the Pew respondents said they themselves have reported news, commented on an online story or shared stories on social media sites.

The news experience has changed from a one-way delivery of information by journalists to an increasingly interactive information-sharing experience.  In other words, your members don’t want to be talked “to,” they want to be talked “with.”

Or at least most of your members.

The Communicator’s Quandary: Part I

With limited resources of both time and money, is it possible to strike a balance between traditional media and new media?


Though traditional outlets are losing ground to social media news delivery, Pew did find something very compelling.  Some 80 percent of all social media links originate with traditional media sources.  Journalists continue to serve as the backbone of news, which means they cannot and should not be ignored. 

Credit unions must continue to pursue traditional media to help tell your compelling story about the first-generation college student helped by the credit union’s financial literacy program because it is likely to spread far beyond the original media outlet where it appeared. 

And of course, you’ll also gain appreciation for the credit union story among all the Texans who still love their favorite news anchors and the feeling of a newspaper in their hands.

The Communicator’s Quandary: Part II   

Interestingly, the Pew study found a significant difference in how news topics gleaned attention in traditional media vs. social media … and even within the social media category itself.

Whereas traditional media invest more time covering politics and government, health and medicine, and the economy, Twitter users tend to post more stories related to technology.  YouTube viewers share a lot of videos about foreign events, while blogs focus on stories that elicit emotion or involve individual or group rights.

In other words, the same news stories did not garner the same amount of attention across the various news channels.

So how do you tell your credit union’s story in all these different media channels?

Tailoring the Story

As credit union communicators, the job of figuring out where and how to tell your story is an art that requires creativity and experimentation:

  1. Seek traditional media coverage for your credit union’s story. Remember, the more self-serving your story, the less likely it is to garner coverage. Focus on stories about how your credit union is helping real people, particularly a struggling family or a group of children.
  2. Identify bloggers with an interest in consumer or education news. They tend to cover those topics twice as often as traditional media, and you also may gain more traction if you position your story as part of a larger trend.  
  3. Talk technology for Twitter. Share news about consumer-friendly tech updates or tips to help people protect themselves from cyber criminals, for example.
  4. Turn on the creativity for YouTube.  Show how your credit union serves people from all walks with a “day in the life of a teller” video. Or create a financial literacy video with some of the cute children your team is educating. (Be sure you have the right permissions and security guidelines in place, of course!)
  5. Cross-promote your news on Facebook or use it to offer interactive challenges to drive your members to your website or the nearest branch.

In today’s rapidly-changing environment, credit unions have more opportunities to tell their story.  Measure your results and don’t be afraid to experiment. Invest time to identify your target media, tailor your approach and push out your story in tandem among the various media channels to connect the credit union story to those who ought to be members.

Allison Griffin is the president of communications consulting firm, Griffin Strategies, Inc., and a co-founder of SocialRise, a social media strategy and software firm. This article was published recently in LoneStar Perspectives magazine, a publication of the Texas Credit Union League.

Punditry, Political Correctness and Public Radio

Allison Griffin - Friday, October 22, 2010
This week, National Public Radio fired one of its longtime pundits, News Analyst Juan Williams, proportedly because he uttered a personal opinion while appearing on another network.  Was it justified?  Or was it just that polarizing political undercurrents in the media finally bubbled to the surface?

When I was in journalism school, my professors certainly hammered us on the need for journalists to play the role of neutral observers and mere reporters of the facts.  Journalists, we were taught, are held to a higher standard. 

The public, by and large, shared that idealistic sentiment of the profession.  Of course, it was back when David Brinkley still graced ABC, Paul Harvey's distinctive quips were eagerly awaited by millions of radio listeners each day, and Walter Cronkite's legacy as "the most trusted man in America" still loomed large over the field of journalism.

There is no question that the landscape has changed since that time.  Dramatically.  With the rise of 24-hour cable news programming, news magazine shows, talk radio, and of course, the internet and blogosphere, the definition of "journalist" has become blurry.

Today, even as many journalists strive to uphold the traditional standards of their profession, their reliable reporting is drowned out by the plethora of "news" shows hosted by stand-up-comedians-turned-sardonic-commentators, former politicians/philanderers-turned-pundits, and paparazzi gossip reporters. Add to that the thousands of bloggers whose opinionated diatribes are being cross-polinated with straight journalism, and the media world is increasingly confusing.

Which brings me back to the firing of Juan Williams.  As a news analyst, Williams -- like other analysts and commentators -- for years has offered his opinions about politics, policy and public discourse.  That is in the job description of pundits. 

So what was the real motivation?  Was it because of what Williams opined -- the very politically-incorrect admission that he sometimes feels nervous on an airplane when he sees a Muslim in full traditional garb?  Or was it because of where he opined -- on the Fox News Channel?

Regardless of the motivation, the decision by the taxpayer-supported NPR to suddenly hold one journalist to some "higher standard" may achieve the opposite effect, instead serving to further polarize the public and add to their growing distrust of the media. 

Prospects for 2010

Allison Griffin - Tuesday, December 29, 2009

As a public relations consultant, I sometimes face an internal struggle between my professional need to scour all types of media coverage and my personal need to shield myself from what can seem like a never-ending stream of bad news.


With 2010 rapidly approaching, it has been interesting to read the myriad predictions about business, the economy and public policy (not to mention public health, public education, and public menaces). Though reporters relay glum predictions about prospects for the coming year, I choose not to participate in the pessimism.


Nope.  For me, at least, the new year is going to be better.  Here’s why:

Lessons learned.  After several years of smooth sailing, I – like many people – admittedly got a little too comfortable.  While comfort is nice, it can trick us into growing complacent and taking good times for granted.  If nothing else, I know 2009 has provided an injection of reality and a dose of humility that surely will benefit my long-term health and well being.

Priorities intact.  Another risk of comfort and complacency is to lose sight of what’s important.  While other sources of “security” may fall short, my real priorities – family, friends and faith – remain intact.

Ambition restored.  Success can make us soft, while tough times can restore the grit that made us successful in the first place.  I am starting 2010 with a renewed sense of ambition about the prospects that lie ahead.  I’m prepared, focused and energized to make it a great year, for my clients, my business, my family and friends.


Pessimism for 2010?  Bah humbug.  Choose not to participate.

Snowflakes and a Flurry of Fallacies

Allison Griffin - Thursday, December 03, 2009

Today, as I watched big fluffy snowflakes falling from the skies over Dallas, I thought about global warming and the flurry of fallacies surrounding it.


The recent revelation of manipulation and cover-ups by some of the scientists most responsible for fanning the global warming flames raises serious questions about a theory that has been widely accepted by the media and some government leaders as “truth.”


The discovery of deceitful internal emails, coupled with the deletion of data upon which global warming “truths” are based, is quite inconvenient, particularly for those pushing sweeping and punitive “Cap and Trade” environmental legislation on Capitol Hill.


That legislation is on the fast track, in spite of questions about hundreds of new federal regulations and mandates it would spawn and their effect on the nation’s weak economy.  Critics say the new government burdens will raise energy prices for consumers, hurt home and car sales, and send the last remaining America-based energy companies -- and all those jobs they provide – overseas.


If these economic concerns aren’t enough to give pause to the politicians in Washington, will this revelation of environmental evidence tampering make them think twice?


Even amid the flurry of fallacies, I fear the truth is too inconvenient to derail a done deal.


It’s a chilling thought.

Think HUGE

Allison Griffin - Thursday, October 22, 2009

A friend of mine recently wrote a book that has me thinking.  Thinking HUGE, actually.


Mark Arnold, senior vice president at a Dallas-based credit union, released the book Think Huge to share inspirational stories and motivate people to succeed in business and personal life.


The response has been very positive, with invitations for Mark to speak to groups around the nation about his book.  My own positive response has been surprising, because I’m admittedly skeptical about all the theoretical self-help and “get rich quick” books that line the shelves at bookstores. 


In Think Huge, Mark has figured out a way to blend the theoretical with well-researched, real-life success stories.  And he offers tangible action steps that people can latch onto.   


The book, which began as a memo to his staff, is built around several characteristics shared by the successful people he’s studied:


Vision: knowing where you want to go and how to bring your ideas to life

People: involving and surrounding yourself with the right people

Passion: finding and doing something you love

Time: committing your limited time to what’s important

Perseverance: staying the course even when obstacles threaten your dream

Learning: continuing to seek knowledge and life-long education


I can’t help but think about these areas of focus when I think about people who are truly successful, and of course, my own shortcomings. 

The ‘Think Huge’ ideas have made a noticeable difference in my mindset these last few weeks, for which I am grateful. 

When I was traveling earlier this month, I gave my copy to the cab driver who had told me about his struggles to build a new life for his children after the recent death of his wife.  He has moved to a new community with strong public schools, begun classes at the local community college, and taken a second job (driving a cab) to create a good life.  Just before handing him my book, I commended him for his vision and perseverance.  For his commitment to his family, faith and lifelong learning.  For ‘Thinking Huge.’

Always Assume the Mic is On

Allison Griffin - Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Makes you cringe, doesn’t it?

Imagine if someone had broadcast some of the off-hand comments you’ve made to a close friend or colleague over the years. Yikes. Fortunately for you, the mic wasn’t on.

Unfortunately for some very high-profile people lately, the microphone was on and their comments were broadcast loud and clear across the nation, making millions of us cringe. (Think: California Assemblyman Mike Duvall. Former Obama Administration official Van Jones. Congressman Joe Wilson. Kanye West – though he actually grabbed the mic on purpose.)

Whether out of arrogance or sheer stupidity, public figures – particularly politicians –seem to have forgotten some important cardinal rules of public life: “Someone is always listening.” And, “If your grandmother would gasp, you probably shouldn’t say it.” It’s a point I drive home with clients, especially the high-profile ones.

But this PR advice isn’t reserved for the famous and powerful. Even people who aren’t in public life should take these cardinal rules of communication to heart.

Think about the inquisitive ears of children and the things they’ll repeat on the playground.

Think of your colleague who may secretly deplore the casual way you talk about your intimate life.

Think about the inappropriate email you sent and where it got forwarded (with your name still attached).

Or think of that risqué photo your teenager texted to her boyfriend that somehow ended up all over the school and Internet. (BIG cringe.)

In the words of Lyle Lovett, “I realize there are things you say and do that you can never take back.” Yep. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.

When it comes to communication -- whether verbal, written or electronic -- use your brain. Don’t create a public relations crisis for yourself. If the words or images would make your grandmother cringe, refrain from saying or sending it. And ALWAYS ASSUME THE MIC IS ON.

Credibility Gap

Allison Griffin - Thursday, August 20, 2009
This week, Brett Favre shocked and amazed the sports world by announcing his un-retirement from football. Again.

Obviously, I’m being facetious. He did shock and amaze the sports world the first time he un-retired. This time, it fanned a series of searing stories focused on his credibility gap.

Favre, best known as the longtime quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, has enjoyed an immensely successful career in professional football, building a reputation both on and off the field as a man of character.
Unfortunately, his retirement-related flip-flops from the past few years put all that at risk.

It should come as no surprise that the media is gleefully covering the fact that Favre has contradicted himself. Reporters always cover contradictions or untruths. And they rarely cover it the way the person in question would have liked.

It offers every one of us a valuable lesson. Not matter what role you play in life, it’s important to say what you mean and mean what you say. And only talk about what you actually know.

Clearly, life’s situations change and none of us can predict the future with any certainty. But we can control how we portray our plans and our decisions.

In Brett Favre’s case, when he unequivocally told reporters in February that his retirement was for good this time, he boxed himself in. He could have said, “At this moment, I do not see myself returning to football” to reduce the future credibility gap should he change his mind. Unfortunately, he left himself open to charges of flip-flopping. Again.

In my PR 101 course, I recommend avoiding words like “Never” or “Always.” Do not fall into the trap of predicting the future or speculating about what lies ahead, a favorite tactic of reporters. Instead, talk about the current situation as you know it. Period. Smart decisions now will help you avoid falling into the credibility gap in the future.