Tag Archives: public relations

How I Discovered the Land of Oz

On the morning of my fourth birthday in 1971, my father snapped a photograph that captured an incredibly important life-changing event. There I stood pajama-clad and bleary-eyed, stretching my arms behind my neck with an expression that betrayed not the slightest inkling of the momentousness of what was happening. I was standing in the hall outside my bedroom beside a cedar chest on which my parents had placed my birthday gifts. There was a down sleeping bag compressed inside its stuff sack, some clothing that I have long since forgotten, a pink package of “Mr. Bubble” brand powdered bubble bath flakes, and a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, that greatest American fairytale by L. Frank Baum, which was first published in 1900. It was this last item and the genius of  L. Frank Baum that changed my life forever.

Receiving The Wizard of Oz on my fourth birthday was a life-changing event.

Receiving The Wizard of Oz on my fourth birthday was a life-changing event.

Many people familiar with the famous 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland don’t realize that it was based on a book. Many more don’t realize the book was so successful that Baum wrote 13 sequels before his death in 1919. Over the span of his writing career, he published more than 50 novels, dozens of short stories and more than 200 poems. In his early years, he also was a playwright and actor, newspaper and magazine editor, traveling salesman and the owner of a retail store called Baum’s Bazaar. The Oz series and other books by L. Frank Baum introduced me to a whole new world of reading, writing and imagination. WizardFirstPage copyThe droll humor and kind sentiments expressed in his books influenced my dreams, shaped my values and formed a fabric that was an integral part of my childhood. I have no doubt that my own career and life path as a writer, journalist and idealist were strongly influenced by L. Frank Baum, and for that I owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Baum in 1911

Baum in 1911

Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that more than 40 years after that fateful birthday, I would become the editor-in-chief of the literary journal named after this very same L. Frank Baum. The Baum Bugle publishes popular and scholarly articles about the Oz books and other works by Baum and Oz authors and illustrators. It has been published continuously three times a year since the founding of the International Wizard of Oz Club in 1957. Considering my love for all things Oz and the fact that I have been a dues-paying member since 1975, it seems entirely appropriate that the Oz Club would become a client of mine. (I almost hesitate to call them a client, since editing their journal makes me an ex officio member of their board of directors, my work for them is pro bono, and everything I do for them is truly a labor of love.) I also am a natural fit for the job, not only due to my professional experience as a journalist but also because I am an avid collector of rare editions of the original Oz and Baum books. (I have written extensively about my collection on the Royal Blog of Oz, and you can read my individual blog posts here.)

Issues of the Baum Bugle that I have published to date: spring 2013 through autumn 2015

Issues of the Baum Bugle that I have published to date: spring 2013 through autumn 2015

From the beginning, my biggest challenge as editor-in-chief has been to publish a magazine that meets the highest standards of journalism while operating on a shoestring budget and with a staff comprised entirely of volunteers. Despite these modest resources, I have solicited contributions from top-tier experts and academics and award-winning artists. I have succeeded in using my vision and knowledge of my craft to integrate these contributions into a cohesive, compelling whole. The feedback that I have received from decades-long subscribers is that I have brought a new level of professionalism to a publication that has been around for nearly 60 years.

The International Wizard of Oz Club isn’t going to change the world in the same way as an environmental group or nonprofit organization with a social justice mission. Nonetheless, L. Frank Baum’s creations have a cast a light of love and wonder and tolerance for individual differences that has brought joy to countless children’s hearts. Many of these children have grown up into some of the finest human beings that I have had the privilege of knowing. Thanks to Baum and his imagination, the world is definitely a better place. For this reason, the Oz Club is a shining example of the kind of group that I am seeking to add to my roster of clients at Craig Noble Communications.

P.S. – Membership in the International Wizard of Oz Club costs just $25 per year and comes with a subscription to the Baum Bugle. If you’re curious, but not yet ready to commit to joining, there are a some great online resources to learn more about the world of Oz. First, of course, is the Oz Club website. There also are an Oz Club Facebook page and a Baum Bugle Facebook page. I manage the latter. If you’re curious about collecting the books, I highly recommend two online booksellers – Wonderful Books of Oz and March Hare Books.

Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain!

Remember in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her friends discovered that Oz the Great and Powerful wasn’t a great wizard after all? It’s one of many memorable scenes in the movie, and there’s a lesson here for the PR business, or, for that matter, any business at all. Watch this short, entertaining clip to jog your memory.

WizardBehindCurtainThe backstory, of course, is that Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion had visited the Wizard to ask him to grant their wishes. The Scarecrow wanted brains, the Tin Man wanted a heart, the Lion wanted courage, and Dorothy wanted to return home to Kansas with her little dog Toto. The Wizard appeared to each character in a different guise, and demanded that first they destroy the Wicked Witch of the West—who he was deathly afraid of—before he would grant their wishes. The Wizard probably thought the Wicked Witch would easily dispatch Dorothy and her friends, and that would be the end of these pesky supplicants. But if they did succeed in destroying the witch, well that would be a bonus, and it would buy him time to figure out how to maintain the illusion of his greatness. The Wizard’s plans were thwarted when Dorothy and her friends returned from destroying the witch, and Toto pulled aside the curtain showing the little humbug man operating the smoke and mirrors machinery.

What does this have to do with the PR business? Well, let me tell you another story from my experience as a vice president at a big PR firm. I was still new on the job, and a group of us were pitching our services to a potential client in Los Angeles. The client wanted help promoting an event to raise awareness about climate change. During the event—called “Earth Hour”—participants around the world would turn off the lights to help save the planet. Although the actual pollution reductions would be modest, it was a clever gimmick to raise awareness about the connection between energy use and climate change. At one point during the meeting, I was asked about my experience promoting similar events while working on staff at a large environmental group. My response was something to the effect that my former employer’s grassroots efforts were focused more on generating public comments to decision makers through online activism than through on-the-ground citizen action. Nonetheless, many of the promotional tools and principles were the same and could be applied to this potential client’s situation. Then I ticked off some examples of possible tactics. After the meeting, one of my colleagues pulled me aside. He was furious. He said I had broken one of the rules of the PR business: if you’ve done anything at least once before, then you’re entitled to call yourself an expert.

Now, I’m not saying I was the perfect salesman; I was still learning the job. But my colleague’s comment really stuck in my craw. Just because you’ve done something once, does not make you an expert. Yes, it means you have some experience, but I think it’s dishonest to oversell yourself. The reason I’m sharing this anecdote is because it was part of a pattern I saw while working for Big PR. More often than not, everything was smoke and mirrors. That was the way the company ran its business. But if you looked behind the curtain, there was a little humbug man manipulating the gears and levers to create an illusion about the firm’s abilities and expertise.

I happen to believe in a different kind of public relations. I believe that truth and transparency will always serve you well. As long as you’re creating a useful product or delivering a valuable service, all you have to do to sell it is to tell the honest truth. Yes, it’s hard work crafting an engaging story, identifying and getting the word out to a target audience, and creating buzz about a new endeavor. But the most successful stories are true stories, and your greatest assets are always trust and credibility.

For example, when I worked on the legislative advocacy campaign to pass California’s Clean Cars Law (AB 1493) in 2002, the auto and oil industries cranked up a deceptive campaign of lies and disinformation. They said requiring cleaner cars would force fewer choices upon consumers and make new cars too costly and unaffordable. This was the same tactic they used decades earlier to fight mandatory seat belts and catalytic converters. Guess what? As a result of these laws and regulations, today we have far more choices of cleaner, better, affordable cars in the marketplace—not just in California, but all around the country. The environmental groups and their allies in the cleantech industry told the truth. The Big Polluters lied. When Good Guys are honest, they earn the people’s trust. Don’t let cynics tell you otherwise—the truth will set you free, and, sooner or later, liars always will get caught.

If you need more convincing, consider the recent Volkswagen scandal. The German auto manufacturer installed special software in its cars to cheat on pollution emissions tests. Investigators discovered that millions of diesel autos manufactured by Volkswagen—including Beetles, Jettas, Passats and Audi A3s—have been emitting almost 40 times the allowed amounts of pollutants that contribute to smog and cause serious respiratory diseases. Not only did Volkswagen cheat, but according to the New York Times it used a deceptive PR campaign to promote its vehicles:

While Volkswagen cheated behind the scenes, it publicly espoused virtue. This, after all, is the company that used one of the largest advertising arenas in the world, the Super Bowl, to run a commercial showing its engineers sprouting angel’s wings.

When the truth came to light, the company’s stock value plummeted, its chief executive has stepped down, it faces billions of dollars in penalties, and its future is uncertain. It’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible, for the company to regain the credibility and trust that it earned in nearly 80 years of doing business.

As a communications consultant, here’s my pledge to you: I will never lie, cheat or oversell my services. You are free to peek behind the curtain. As a good faith gesture, you can watch me build this website. Right now, it’s pretty plain vanilla. Although I’m experienced at building websites—I’ve done it for a nonprofit organization, a government agency and an academic institution—I’m a content guy, not a computer whiz or graphic designer. When I built those websites, I had people on my team with expertise in the areas that weren’t my specialty. However, with this consulting business website, I’m doing all the work myself. This means I’m teaching myself about website hosting and how to use the WordPress content management system. I’m starting small and learning as I go. As I gain experience, I’ll add more bells and whistles to make the website more compelling—more visually attractive and with more dynamic multimedia content. I could have waited until I had the “perfect” website before unveiling it to the world; then I could have presented myself as a total Website Wizard. Instead, I’m inviting you to follow my progress. I will inevitably make mistakes along the way, and my various bumps and hiccups will be on public display.

Rest assured, however, if I build a website as part of a public relations effort for you or another client, I will deliver top-notch results. I will work with you to develop a strategic plan with a vision of how the website will help you meet your goals and objectives. I will leverage my skills and experience as a communications content expert and build a team of graphic designers, computer programmers and any other needed specialists. This is how I achieved success with other projects; it’s how I can do the same for you.

If you have a Big Idea, and you need help communicating it, if you share my passion for mission and mojo, honesty and integrity, then let’s talk about what we can accomplish together. And don’t forget, when you’re working with me, it’s okay to peek behind the curtain.

Why I ‘m Starting My Own Consulting Business

Once upon a time, I was recruited by the biggest independent global public relations firm and offered what I thought was my dream job. I was asked to become the Vice President in charge of the firm’s Western Regional Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Practice. I was told it was an opportunity to make a boatload of money and make the world a better place. I also was told that gazillions of corporations were just dying to do the right thing and become model corporate citizens. And I was going to show them how to do it! They were going to do exactly what I told them to do because everyone would want to do business with them as soon as they saw what Good Guys they were!

Apparently, I was the perfect candidate because I had spent nearly nine years as the San Francisco Communications Director for an influential national environmental group. During this time I fought on the front lines of successful campaigns to pass California’s three landmark global warming laws. People were finally taking notice about climate change, but instead of just wringing their hands and crying about doom and gloom, they were seeing opportunities to usher in a bright new era, the age of the Clean Energy Economy.

I still believe that climate solutions are going to make the world a better place… in ways we haven’t even imagined. Unfortunately—the part about corporations lining up to do the Right Thing—well, it didn’t exactly turn out that way. It’s true that most companies want to “look” like Good Guys, but a lot of them don’t want to actually do anything that’s expensive or difficult. Turns out, they’re not such Good Guys after all. And the Big PR firms? Well, in my experience, they’re not all they’re cracked up to be either. In fact, most have a tacit agreement with their clients that goes something like this: “You pay us a monthly retainer fee of $30,000 – $50,000, and we’ll make you look Real Good. Now the money you pay us for your Public Relations Plan is nothing to sniff at, but we promise we can make you look Real Good for a lot less money than it would cost you to actually do something meaningful.”

With this kind of inside knowledge, you might think I’m crazy to start my own consulting business. The thing is, I honestly believe people can accomplish big things if they’re willing to put their money where their mouths are. I also believe you don’t need a lot of money to make a difference. Sure it helps, but I see people of modest means doing amazing things all the time. It’s my belief that these are people who have strong convictions about making the world a better place. They’re willing to take risks, and the rewards they have in mind aren’t about stroking their egos. These are the kinds of clients I’m looking for. So if you have any Big Ideas, let’s talk. Send me a message at craig@craignoble.net.