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Hands Off the Press

An Object Lesson in Media Relations…

In San Francisco, ABC7’s Dan Noyes had an interesting (and for PR pros, instructive) run-in with Laguna Honda Hospital PR chief Marc Slavin.

Noyes was probing allegations that Laguna Honda administrators inappropriately used money from the Patient Gift Fund.

On the original YouTube page for this video (the link has since died–another hosted post below) it said

According to Noyes, “Hospital Director Mivic Hirose ignored our phone calls for an interview. So, we showed up at her town hall meeting at the hospital.” That’s when the chief of community relations Marc Slavin stepped in and repeatedly patted Noyes with a hand. Each time, Noyes warned, “Do not touch me,” and one point Noyes threatened to call the cops. But like a brother bugging his little sister, Slavin continued his touchy-feely ways with Noyes and the camerawoman.

Check it out:

Marc Slavin Stars In The Confrontation Video Of… by pichunter

I worked for a few years as a public relations staffer in two major metro hospitals. I had to deal with the best and worst of the journalistic profession on events as catastrophic as the Murrah Terrorist Attack to stories about overweight kids to (sadly) routine updates on shooting victims. Almost always, reporters were professional and respectful of the operations of the hospital, understanding that it was my job to protect the privacy of our patients as well as provide an environment where our staff could do their work without distraction.

Most reporters would call ahead to schedule an interview or ask for a statement when a story was brewing. We would do our very best to accommodate them while meeting our legal, patient privacy and ethical obligations.

I do recall, however, being infuriated by certain tactics used by a tiny minority of journalists. This included the “gotcha” where they showed up unannounced with what I believed to be a clear agenda to cause trouble for the cameras.

Besides all other reasonable motives (professionalism, maturity, civility, etc.) that is one reason why I would never, ever, touch a journalist in any way–no matter how infuriating their tactics. Nor would I raise my voice or do anything provocative. My job in those situations was to get the journalist out of the building and reschedule the interview–not to make the journalist angry or put on a show for the cameras. My job was to minimize damage, not escalate it.

True, Slavin rattled Noyes, effectively taking the focus off the investigative reporting and putting it on the reporter himself, but at what price?

It’s a fairly textbook case of winning the battle but losing the war. Slavin made an ass of himself. He made the hospital–already on the hook for some pretty nasty allegations–look like it’s staffed by idiots. As I write this, the YouTube page for this video has nearly 17,000 hits, and that doesn’t begin to cover the blogs, news sites and other places where this story is being discussed.

So instead of cooling the situation down and seeking a way to get the reporter an interview (nevermind planning ahead and responding to allegations in a timely way to ensure his boss was not vulnerable to an unannounced impromptu visit), Slavin has guaranteed that the allegations have been repeated thousands of times, across the globe.

Ideally, the relationship between PR and the news media should be a balance based on mutual respect (even if it’s a grudging respect), professionalism and ethical behavior. If one side of this balance fails to meet those standards, it’s still incumbent upon the other to remain professional and keep cool. In this case, the PR “pro” reacted in an unprofessional way to a reporter’s provocative tactic.

He should have known better. Guys like Marc Slavin make the entire profession look bad. In future I hope he keeps his hands to himself.

AlexanderG Whiz Mailbag: "Thank you for blogging!"

I received a nice email about some of my AlexanderG Whiz blog posts from Kandi, a customer service professional in the hospitality industry. Here’s part of her email:

Hey Alex!

I enjoyed the Honda follow-up blog!  Glad to see that they didn’t disappoint, now every time I get those coupons in the mail I wonder what they are going to try to up sell me on when I enter!

Also wanted to let you know that I deeply enjoyed your April 26th post about Good Customer Service to the Core, I actually just spoke to a [college] hospitality class about customer service and getting back to the basics. […]  I totally agree with you though that if people in the service industry would just realize that it is the small things that make the most impact a lot of the companies wouldn’t be where they are today!

Anyway just wanted to check in with you and thank you for blogging!


She also mentioned she is thinking about writing a book on customer service. We hope she does–and we’ll certainly let you know when it’s published.

Thanks for writing Kandi!

You can write us, too–or leave a comment below. Come on, let’s hear from you!

Why Controlling Bosses Have Unproductive Employees

The Harvard Business Review says that being a “controlling” boss can hurt the bottom line, let alone employee morale:

Believe it or not, the mere thought of you can make your employees do a lousy job.In fact, if your employees consider you a controlling person, even an unconscious thought of you can have a negative effect on their performance. If, for example, they were to happen to subliminally see, out of the corner of their eyes, your name flash for 60 milliseconds, you could expect them to start working less hard. Even if they didn’t intend to slack off.


It’s all too easy, once people become managers, for them to forget how deeply their employees value freedom and autonomy, and the extent to which some of them, at least, will react to any infringement of it, even unconsciously.

I’ve seen it before, firsthand. I had a boss who micromanaged everything my team did, literally adding days to the time it took to finish a project. I also had a boss who hectored me about deadlines–even though I never missed deadlines–several times a day in what I can only think was an attempt to assert his authority. The grand prize goes to the boss who told me who I could sit with when I ate lunch in the company cafeteria.

Seriously. No kidding. I’m sure it goes without saying that I probably didn’t always do my best work in those situations.

I maintain that when you give your staff parameters to do their jobs with the autonomy and empowerment to make decisions, they will become your greatest asset. When you stand over them like a parent does a rebellious child, you will get an employee who acts like a rebellious child, however subversively.

If managers hire the right people and give them the tools they need, managers shouldn’t have to be controlling at all. Management and control are two different things.

In my career I’ve been a manager of anywhere from three to more than a hundred employees. I viewed my management duties this way: I had my own work to do and little time or patience for staff who needed me to “stand over them” to ensure they did their work properly and on-time. I hired people who were professional and, once given parameters and the tools they needed, got their job done.

Nine times out of ten, that management philosophy worked well. The few times it didn’t usually indicated a need for me to work on my management skills or the person I was managing was–for whatever reason–in the wrong job.

Two Spokespersons Amplify BP Oil Spill PR Chaos

To say the least I’m perplexed about BP and their response to the oil spill in the Gulf. I could (and may) write a White Paper on all the mistakes and missed opportunities, but for today let’s talk about their spokespersons.

They’ve made some obviously vague and tone deaf statements–especially recently with CEO Tony Hayward’s assertion that the spill’s environmental impact will be “very, very modest”:

Yeah, tell that to the fishermen, Tony. Their impending “modest” bankruptcies are no biggie.

Hayward’s wishful thinking out loud makes the situation worse for BP, particularly when his own COO Doug Suttles (who I give points to for making himself available to the media) apparently contradicted him on the Today Show this morning (last few seconds of this piece):

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Two spokespersons in a crisis communications situation is almost never a good idea, especially when there is no message coordination. It’s certainly played a role in BP’s long-standing environmentally-responsible image–which now resides somewhere in the vicinity of that leaking well on the bottom of the sea.

Developing…we’ll have more analysis shortly.

In the meantime, what do you think? Should BP’s CEO stay out of the messaging, or does it really matter at this point?

7 Strategic Thinking Starters from KC's Coffee Baron

Friday Tidbit from my pal Mike over at Brainzooming.

Mike offers “some strategic thought starters from Danny O’Neill, the Bean Baron at Kansas City’s The Roasterie.”

This one speaks to me: “There’s inherent stress in choices. When starting a business, you don’t have a lot of choices.” Though that is balanced out by “It’s a lot easier to bet the farm when you don’t have a farm.”


Check it out:

7 Strategic Thinking Starters | Brainzooming.


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