August 2, 2013
By Tom Hayden
As a former professional political communicator, I’ve managed and staffed my fair share of events with elected officials, with big titles such as mayor, representative, senator, governor and even president. One thing that always becomes clear at these types of events is the difference between those staffers who are there to get their personal photo op and those who are there to get the job done. While it is easy to get your head turned among so much excitement, I’ve always held the most respect for those who are more willing to forgo the personal glory in order make sure the event is successful. I was reminded of this again as colleague Sam Kennedy and I helped client Amazon prepare for a presidential event at its Chattanooga Fulfillment Center this week.
Instead of strategizing about ways in which we could be close to the president, Sam and I spent our drive down from Nashville discussing ways to ensure our client’s needs and message didn’t get lost. Once on-site, we set about getting our tasks done, from working with national and local media to helping with staging and working with a wonderful team of Amazon volunteers who played key roles in the event.
With an event of this magnitude, we were interacting with varied interests from the White House, Amazon and the media; but Sam and I kept our focus.
While I wish I had a photo of us smiling with the president, I am more proud of the photo at the top of this post showing a successful event that clearly kept our client front and center. After all, one of MP&F’s mottos is to fulfill our promise to do great work for our clients.
June 21, 2013
By Roger Shirley, Editorial Director
One of the goals of a good writer should be to not raise questions in your copy that you don’t answer, a point I emphasize when talking to our younger staffers.
It’s something that was ingrained in me early in my career by a crusty old newspaper editor who had a tendency of mixing heavy doses of screaming and cussing with his insightful coaching.
I remember distinctly the day he called me over to the desk as he edited one of my stories. “Shirley, what the hell does this mean?” he asked with a snarl. I was about 12 words into trying to explain it when he interrupted me, yelling even louder, no doubt to send waves of fear through the other cub reporters within earshot. “Well, we have two options here. You can either add that to your story now, or you can get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and start calling 38,000 people to tell them what it means.”
Good writers anticipate the questions their readers will ask and answer them, whether it is in a news story, a news release, a letter to employees or a memo to a client. Good writers understand that, when they raise a question, they must either answer it or go back and write around it so as not to raise the question. (Sometimes, the latter just doesn’t cut it.)
If you say that “Tennessee has the second-highest consumption rate per capita of Chili Cheese Pups in the nation,” you had better follow that up with which state tops the list, because that is the immediate question raised. If for some reason you don’t know and can’t find out (unlikely in this digital day and age), then you must recast the sentence. “Tennessee has one of the highest consumption rates of Chili Cheese Pups per capita in the nation” works nicely. It generally makes the point, without raising the question.
The problem with not answering questions you raise, beyond the informational aspect of it, is that it often prompts readers to stop reading and to start bouncing around in the copy trying to find the answer – or worse, pay a visit to Mr. Google, never to return to your carefully crafted prose. And for a writer, few things are worse than losing the reader.
When self-editing your drafts, it’s important to try as much as possible to read them from a reader’s perspective and not a writer’s perspective, to ask the questions a reader would ask and see if you have answered them.
That’s easier said than done, of course, which is why there will always be a role for editors, crusty or not.
So we’re coming off a pretty big couple of weeks, huh, Nashville?
The opening of the Music City Center gave us another feather in a cap that is starting to make us look like quite the peacock. With all these people telling us how wonderful we are (I’ll spare you the many links), I guess it only made sense to open a 1.2 million-square-foot building and admit, with a sheepish grin, “Yeah, we are pretty great.”
As I looked out from one of the balconies of the MCC last week, I wondered how newcomers to Nashville would see the city through the prism of this new entertainment district. How would their version of Nashville compare to mine?
We have a great opportunity – and, perhaps, a responsibility – with the Music City Center to ensure our visitors experience the Nashville that we enjoy every day. I think the powers-that-be recognized this, and there are hearty doses of local flavor throughout the building. The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. The $2 million in art installations. The architecture that gives the feeling of being inside a guitar (or maybe a whale). And it’s a good sign that the first big event in the center will be our local Music City Sports Festival.
Is it going to feel touristy? Sure. The MCC is surrounded by hotels, honky-tonks, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Bridgestone Arena. Convention visitors to our city are still going to get the amped-up, ABC television-show version of Nashville, and that’s OK.
But as the city continues to market the MCC and the great new amenities around it, we would do well to incorporate the little things that make Nashville what it is and what it’s becoming. Mention in its promotion that you can escape up to Rolling Mill Hill for great views, some awesome coffee and food from one of the best chefs in the country. Encourage intrepid B-Cyclers to make it over to Five Points, or Jefferson Street, or Centennial Park. Remind them to catch a baseball game at that old college-days couch of a stadium we keep meaning to replace (and to grab a burger at Gabby’s if they’re lucky).
City leaders have made it a point to say that the MCC is for Nashvillians to enjoy. Just as important, let’s make the MCC a place for visitors to enjoy Nashville – the Nashville we know.
March 6, 2013
By Will Krugman, intern
Accidental camping – that’s what I would have called the recent Carnival Cruise disaster. Let’s say you paid for a Caribbean cruise, got to enjoy about half of it then decided to just stay in the last port you visited. You ditch the tourist trap town where they dropped you and live in the wilderness in the Yucatan Peninsula. You sleep under the stars, nobody can tell you what to do, and the lack of constantly buzzing electronic devices puts you into a relaxed state of mind.
In reality, an engine room fire cut power to 3,000 passengers, forcing them to live on a powerless boat for the next few days. Even if you wanted your luxurious first-world customs, you couldn’t find any for leagues.
What is a cruise line supposed to do when one of its ships loses power at sea, basically turning the ship into a floating desert island? It’s not as though you can pick up your bags, snatch a cab and head to the airport.
Maybe the lesson learned isn’t “Wow, that company really screwed up,” but more “You know what – that cruise line knows how to make a problem not worse.”
Let’s face it, things could have gone worse for Carnival; but they did not try to cover up the story or shift blame. Besides the obvious disaster, the only other negative press came from its owner going to a Miami Heat game a few days into the crisis. Otherwise, they treated the ordeal as though it was a big deal and gave the passengers fair compensation.
Passengers on the Triumph received a full cost of trip and transportation refund, 30 percent off the next cruise, and $500 extra. That adds up to another completely free cruise. As if they hadn’t had enough already.
Carnival can take comfort in knowing they treated their customers with respect. Next time you find yourself in a hole, first remember to stop digging.
December 20, 2012
By Mark McNeely
We’ve been including in our blog posts this year an occasional feature on the 25 questions most frequently asked of us as part of a yearlong celebration of McNeely Pigott & Fox’s 25th anniversary. That celebration officially ends Jan. 1.
I planned on closing out the year pointing to some of the highlights of our agency’s existence. Then I started trying to figure out which I should feature. There were tons of milestones, points of pride, specific successful assignments, and, along the way, many other challenges and disappointments.
So rather than pick a few successes or things that we could have done better, I wanted to hail the culture of our company and its people and talk in broad terms about why both have made a profound difference.
The principals here all come from backgrounds that include journalism, politics and public service. We’ve been around plenty of newsrooms and campaigns where some of the worst working conditions imaginable are experienced. We’ve seen plenty of negative energy expended guarding turf, jockeying for position, playing petty office politics and the like.
From the get-go, we’ve tried hard to minimize these energy drains and to focus relentlessly on doing the very best job we can on behalf of our clients, emphasizing teamwork and being a great place to work, and focusing our competitive nature outward – to our competitors, and not inward.
Our vision statement is still as valid today as it was when we developed it almost 20 years ago – Do great work for our clients, be a great place to work, and be successful enough as a business to share those financial successes with every single member of our team. The shorthand version is “Do Great Work. Have Fun. Make Money.”
For me, the idea of being in business this long has taken awhile to sink in. And it brings an incredible feeling of good fortune and appreciation to all 406 souls – 268 employees and 138 interns – who have been a part of MP&F for the past quarter-century.
So in the spirit that surrounds our traditional holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, allow me to publicly and humbly thank everyone who has contributed to our success and helped build MP&F into the largest PR firm in the state and keep it there for many years, including these tough, recessionary and weak economic times.
Every one of my fellow partners is talented, experienced and strategic. Alice Chapman and Andrew Maraniss, who became our newest partners earlier this year, had spent a good deal of their professional lives working here. Over the past 18 years, Alice has managed many successful public information and education campaigns, including the introduction of the ubiquitous “Curby” recycling program a few years ago. She excels in our many grassroots- issues assignments. Andrew cut his teeth doing sports information for his alma mater, Vanderbilt University, where he was a Fred Russell-Grantland Rice scholar, and then was the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ first media relations staffer. He has led many sports and automotive endeavors since. Both have young families and continually do that work/life balancing act. It sure has worked well. Thanks, guys. Your fresh insights and perspectives have been extremely valuable this year.
Katy Varney, who joined David Fox and Mike Pigott and me as a partner in 1993, exemplifies a rare blend of energy, confidence and optimism that continues to buoy our work product and our spirits. Her one condition of employment (from a job requiring her to take a huge pay cut from her previous employer) was that MP&F conduct annual staff retreats. Mike, David and I said “sure,” even though we weren’t sure what that meant. We have had annual off-site retreats every year since then, and just when we think we’ve done all, seen all and heard all, there’s something new to spice up the planning and bonding experience each year. If Katy has a weakness, it is that she refuses to say no or be daunted by long odds. Therefore, she has served on more volunteer boards and has been involved in more “extracurricular” activities than anyone I’ve ever known. Thank you, Katy, for everything through the years.
Keith Miles has been a partner since 1997. He’s tech-savvy, an expert in new media, and a talented singer/songwriter. He’s low-key and steady and very involved in the foodie scene here. My guess is that we’ve really stymied a promising professional music career because of the time and effort required to manage clients and people here. Keith maintains and uncanny closeness and trust level with many of his clients; some like him because he’s Keith, and some, perhaps, because he golfs and fly-fishes with of them. And if they are ever looking for recommendations for fine food, wine or cigars, he’s the go-to guy. Bravo.
Then there’s Mike, David and me. Reporter friends always trying to figure out some way to turn our love of news and writing into something more personally rewarding. It took a few years of trying to figure it out; but eventually, in 1987, I started the predecessor firm, McNeely & Associates, after I couldn’t figure out how in the world we could generate enough revenue to pay for all three of us. Who would have thought three old (well, actually, pretty young) newspaper reporters could start a business they didn’t know much about, navigate the rocky waters of several recessions and 9/11, struggle through several very lean years at the first and then emerge as a successful enterprise?
My theory has always been because of attitude, hard work, stubbornness and the ability to attract very talented people into the fold. Oh, and luck.
Pigott joined me at the end of 1988, and Fox came into the fold on Jan. 1, 1990. It was very, very tough at first; but things really started to take off when we changed the name from McNeely & Associates to McNeely Pigott & Fox.
And because of Mike and David…
Mike is one of the most talented information gatherers and writers I have ever known. He is gentle and comforting and has a world-class sense of humor. I used to resent him when we were both reporters because of his great source network. He has a beautiful, talented family to whom he is totally dedicated. Like Keith, he is cool, calm and collected, and has been through it all. His advice during times of duress has saved many clients from the brink over the years. And his relationships with reporters far and wide continue to impress. Thank you, Mike, for helping this venture make it.
David is the consummate family man – husband, like Mike, father of three girls, and school and community leader. But he is one of the most competitive, intense, detail-oriented, goal-driven people I have ever known. He is revered by the staff as a teacher and mentor and trainer and is admired by everyone he comes in contact with because of his twinkle and his smile and pleasant demeanor. He’s a great writer, to boot. Just don’t get on the wrong side of him in a basketball game, or a softball game, or a handball match, on the golf course, or doing an egg and spoon competition. Thanks, David, for making us all better every day.
Of course, there are many, many other current and former staff members who have played pivotal roles here; but we are out of time and space for today.
Our 26th year begins Jan. 1. We’ll begin thanking them then.