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Messaging

5 Critical Elements To An Effective Message

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5 Critical Elements To An Effective Message

You will probably not use your messages verbatim in media interviews very often; rather, you will communicate the themes of your messages in your own words. But since messaging forms the foundation of everything you communicate— in the media, during public presentations, on your website, in brochures, and even during casual conversations— it is important to invest time in developing powerful messages up front. 

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4 Quick Tips In Creating The Message That Matters

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4 Quick Tips In Creating The Message That Matters

A message map is the foundation for all communications relating to an organization. Once it has been developed, a message map serves as the blueprint for all communication on a topic, from talking points to marketing collateral, website copy and anything else you may need to create. 

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The GOP Must Get Hacked

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The GOP Must Get Hacked

After last night GOP Presidential Debate, it is still unclear what the candidates stand for.  We know what they are against, we know what they don't like, but what is their message and what is the brand they want us to remember them by?  Democrats and Republicans need to bring together the most creative minds they can find to solve the problem of what Democrats and Republicans stand for today. 

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RELATIONSHIPS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

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RELATIONSHIPS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

Public affairs professionals with a solid reputation in the community and one who is familiar with the stakeholders and the issues important to them, can then help develop strategic and meaningful relationships, long before a high profile and often controversial project is announced.  That professional can then create a  community roadmap to help the project team navigate through the minefields of any project.  They will help minimize risk and help anticipate barriers to seeing projects to their completion.

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 Marketing Guide| The ideal length of online content

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Marketing Guide| The ideal length of online content

 

Today we are more mobile than before and rely on our phones and tablets to check the latest news or check up on friends and family. As a result, we not only have to learn how to speak in soundest we have to learn how to say what we want to say in as few words as possible.  That is we are starting to communicate more and more with photos and other images.  Here is a brief guide from PRDaily to help you communicate. 

Facebook - Posts with 40 characters receive 86 percent more engagement than posts with more than that amount - 40 characters

Blog headlines - People tend to only read the first and last three words of a headline - 6 words

Email subject lines - Subject lines that fall within this range average a 12.2 percent open rate and 4 percent click rate - 28-39 characters

YouTube videos - The average length of the top 50 YouTube videos is 2 minutes and 54 seconds - 3 minutes

Podcasts - Podcast listeners won't tune in any longer - 22 minutes

Domain names -  The best domain names are short, easy to spell and remember, and don't have hyphens or numbers - 8 characters

Tweets – Shorter than 100 characters have a 17% higher engagement rate - 100 characters

Paragraphs – Opening paragraphs with larger fonts and fewer charcters per line make it easier for the reader to focus and jump quickly from one line to the next - 40-55 words

Hashtags – Don’t use spaces or special charcters, don't start with or only use numbers and be careful about using slang - 6 characters

Title Tags – Don’t exceed 60 characters or you will get clipped - 55 characters

News Release - Try to limit the content to 1,000 words. Optimal length that is short enough for people to read quickly and search engines to find is between 400-600 words or about a page and half (*Source iReach) - 1,000 words

Headline - 60 characters or you risk the headline cutting cut on a website, phone and tablet - 60 characters

*Source  (unless otherwise indicated)

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3 Tips Every Developer Needs To Know Before Announcing A Project

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3 Tips Every Developer Needs To Know Before Announcing A Project

I have worked with developers and commercial real estate firms on high profile projects. In working with them, and their team of consultants, I saw how important it is to engage key stakeholders early in the process of any mix-use development and project that has the potential to impact a community. I have also experienced this as the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary for the Mayor of Detroit. 

From the design stage to the public process in securing permits, in addition to raising capital and targeting potential retailers and other tenants, constant engagement is vital to the success of any project. In addition, developing strategic relationships helps to minimize risk and help anticipate barriers to seeing projects to their completion.  

Here are three simple tips every developer needs to know before announcing any high profile project:

  1. Get to know the key stakeholders who will support and oppose your project. This includes government leaders and community groups. Develop relationships with them long before you announce your project, to build trust, understand their concerns and find support later on – should you need it. 
     
  2. Meet with their leadership in advance to understand their concerns and be ready to respond to them if necessary. This will also help bolster your position during the public process in securing approvals for permits and variances. 
     
  3. Identify a reporter that would be interested in your project to share information and background with so that when you are ready to announce, it will be covered extensively. 

More specifically, here a three action items you should implement now and before you publicly announce your project:

  1. Create a website to gauge and solicit stakeholder input and encourage conversations from project stakeholders. This could help in generating ideas, set priorities and avoid risk to external issues later. It will also help bolster your position before city council in seeking necessary approvals.
     
  2. Directly engaging community groups to develop strategic relationships and support for projects early on in the process. This includes engaging members of city council directly on your vision and the merits of your plans well before you announce anything.
     
  3. Work with the media in educating others about the project.  This includes developing relationships with specific trade publications covering the development and construction industry to share information about the projects you are working on or recently completed.  By building up a portfolio, people will begin to trust you and the work you do in the communities you serve. 

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The public matters: Stakeholder Engagement

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The public matters: Stakeholder Engagement

 

In siting a project, such as a large scale mixed-use development or a high profile project such as a wind farm, pipeline or even WalMart, it is vital that the developer and construction team seek and obtain input from the community early on in the process and aggressively work to educate the media and other key stakeholders on their plans.

In representing such "public" projects, reaching out to the public must become a vital part of the process, otherwise, the project may be at jeopardy from the start. The community should feel like their voices are being heard and listened to. This will improve the chances of the developer realizing their vision and help strengthen their position to seek financing or investors.

In the example of windfarms, I was retained to represent an 1800 MW off shore wind proposal in Southwestern Ontario in Lakes Erie and St. Clair. In one day, I led 7 public engagement meetings and the public was anything but supportive. They could have been if they were involved early in the process, rather than reading about in the newspaper.  Because they read about it they were more emotional about the project than in understanding the big picture and how the developer leading the project was interested in working with the community and their plans for working with the community -- but that message was never heard. So while we listened and responded to their concerns, the project was never implemented. It was not implemented due to regulatory changes in the province, not because of public opinion.

I also represented a deep injection well, several years after the project was in operation and already cited for environmental violations by a previous owner. The new owner retained me to help improve relationships with the community to better understand the deep injection process and impact or lack thereof, this project would have.  So I invited the community into their facility to see the cite first hand, to appreciate the technology and see the depth of safeguards and systems they had in place to avoid future problems. 

Whether directed by law or not, stakeholder engagement is a necessary part of the process, particularly with renewable energy projects.  In these type of projects it is important that the community have any necessary information to the project and have an outlet to ask questions, whether it is through a website, twitter feed or in person meetings. In fact, before a project ever begins it is a good idea to engage key stakeholders in a thoughtful dialogue so you know what you are getting into and can anticipate issues and responses. While we knew we would not get the community's support, we wanted to let them know the new owner was aware of their concerns and willing to work with them. 

There are other examples, from large scale mixed-use developments set to transform a city to environmental justice issues such as the storage of petroleum coke along a major H20 Highway in the Great Lakes, but they all need a strategic strategy to educate a community, listen to their concerns and engage them rather than avoid them. The public needs to be a part of the process. By engaging the community, a developer will have an easier time going to the Mayor for support or getting the city council to agree on their proposal, long before they ultimately need their support. 

Developers are quick to announce projects and share renderings of new buildings.  Often however, they build up hope and good media, only to get sidelined by government that stands in the way of implementing a vision. To make the vision a reality, developers should go to the community first, find the community groups they need for support or at least become aware of their concerns and plan accordingly. This will also improve the developers position to seek financing or investors as it helps tell the project's story.

In other words, for a project to be successful, creating a strategy that engages the pubic early, with sufficient information will help build trust, enhance your reputation and improve understanding of the project to help reach desired outcomes. Successful local engagement, will help improve or overcome any legal and regulatory challenges standing in the way so the next time someone announces a project, it won't be because the public's opinion is not on their side. 

 

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Building Capital in Developing Relationships

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Building Capital in Developing Relationships

Attending trade shows and conferences can be a tedious process. For many people, it takes us away from our families, sometimes for a week or more. While our children may think we are traveling to exotic locations, these events translate into long hours walking and talking. While some use it to sell a product or service, these events should be more about developing strategic relationships.

In attending conferences:

  • Know who you want to talk to
  • Know what you want to say
  • Be flexible and don't worry if you don't meet those that you had on your list.
  • Follow up -- Write a personal note to every business card your receive, follow up with a phone call, recall your conversation and suggesting next steps
  • Now make the hard sale
  • Close the deal

Conferences provide an opportunity to expand your network face-to-face and before you start to sell something, it is important to have or to make a connection so then you can develop the trust and later the business.

After all, we all know why we attend these events, to learn about best practices, to spy on the competition and to get in front of the buyers. However, I personally get turned off from those trying to make the "hard sale." I get it you have something you think I can use or need but you should first take the time to see if it is even relevant to what I do or to whom I represent. But first take the time to know me and I will take the time to know you. If I can't use your product or service perhaps I know someone who does, but if you go straight to the sale. Let's be friends first and build the capital in developing relationships that are mutually beneficial. 

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Creating a movement

In 2011, we saw people protesting in the streets of Egypt, Syria and Libya demanding change, while others occupied Wall Street, Oakland, San Francisco, Detroit and other cities throughout America,. For a movement to succeed, those involved, should have a desire for progress through action, change through collaboration and growth by working together.  For any movement to succeed, it needs a vision and the leadership necessary to carry out that vision.  

As candidates prepare to run for election or reelection in 2014, they need to create a vision to rally their supporters around and suggest a plan of action once they are elected.  Campaigns are no doubt political, but for today’s voter, candidates need to offer voters something more than just the same old negative campaigning.

Business and individuals today need stability. They need to know that what and whom they invest in will be around for a while to help them move forward. The challenge both Democrats and Republicans will have in this election is communicating a vision to help create that movement the activists tried to create in 2011.

Perhaps each party should try something new, something bold and rise above the politics and personalities and start focusing on the issues where everyone can agree. Democrats or Republicans can agree to disagree, but both must start making policy through consensus. While that message may not win elections, it will start the discussion to drive change in the state and in Washington. 

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Are we listening to Democrats?

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Are we listening to Democrats?

Not with the messages handed-out by Democrats in Michigan. With so much going on in this state, from crumbling infrastructure under a harsh winter to a new vibe in Detroit and tremendous growth in Grand Rapids, you would think there is a rare opportunity for Democrats to share with voters what they stand for instead of whom they stand against. 

Unfortunately, I received two emails last week from Democrats that told me they want to play politics as usual. 

Each message was a solicitation:

Subject:  Dems $6 for 6 seats

I know we have asked for a lot lately, but only because the stakes are so very high for our state. Please chip in $6 for 6 seats in November. The deadline is tonight at Midnight and 231 donors have given so far, so your $6 donation could be the one that puts us over the top to our goal of 250 donors. Tim - Sent from my iPhone.

Then minutes later, I received a similar message:

“This will be the last update you get from us for a while because our deadline is tonight at Midnight. We know that you have not given yet, but we are just 28 donations from our goal so your donation could make the difference. Please chip in $6 or whatever you can to help us hit our goal by the Midnight deadline. Thanks, Sam”

With each message, the Democrats missed a rare opportunity to engage a prospective donor and voter in why they should support them. Each time they failed to create an emotional connection and failed to educate them on what issues they stand for or stand for advancing.

With the above messages, as someone who may make a contribution, I want to know:

  • Why are those six seats important?
  • Where are those six seats?
  • Who is running? 

I need something more before making that investment, even for $6. I also don’t like the negative messaging. The timing of these messages did not fit the news cycle, just a political calendar. At the time, the Legislature was voting on spending bills that focused on infrastructure, the U.S. District Court (Eastern District) was preparing to hear a landmark case on equal and civil rights dealing with the rights of same-sex couples and the UAW was just recovering from difficult challenges in the South – Issues, that Democrats do have a leg to stand on. Issues that they could engage me better on as to what they plan on doing about it and why I should care.

Yet, this week the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee announced a major tax proposal while the state is also considering major changes to state tax laws. The President also released his Budget with funding to help those living in poverty, to help restore and protect the Great Lakes and to help enhance our aging roads and bridges. Yet, this week, the Democrats were silent and I did not receive a solicitation.

I recall a time that I sat in the Lansing office of a former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party and asked if I can help create a vision for Michigan Democrats and a strategic plan for each caucus to take back to their district that would work to create a movement or engage others in why they should support Democrats. At the time, the Chairman pointed out his window, towards the state capitol with the House and Senate controlled by Republicans, and said, “You see that building, our message is against, whatever they are for.”

If Democrats are to make gains in 2014, they need a vision.  Their message needs to be strategic, coordinated and engaging.  Today, there is no such thing as politics as usual. People are no longer voting based on a D or an R behind ones name. To help those running for office, Democrats and Republicans alike, need to figure out, what they stand for and then arm their caucus with the tools and resources to broadcast and share that message in a way that will resonate with the voter.  It is time to end the politics and focus on the policy as a way to engage voters. 

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When Politicians Lie...

.... They get caught.  Toronto Mayor Rob Ford knows that now when he faced reporters earlier this week asking them to re-ask a question they asked him in May. "You asked me a question back in May and you can repeat that question," Mr. Ford told a bunch of journalists earlier this week as reported in The New York Times. He then admitted that he did indeed smoke crack cocaine.  Also last week, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R) was accused of plagiarism, denied it and finally this week admitted what happened. (Although to his credit, he also came out with a plan for addressing the situation.) Rolling Stone magazine released their "Top five political excuses of all time" earlier this week and unfortunately we keep hearing these excuses from our elected leaders.

To a political figure there is no worse punishment than a damaged reputation. The longer a person works to cover up something the more damage they will do to their reputation. As a result, here are 5 tips to help politicians out of a sticky situation:

  1. Don't lie.  If you do lie or misrepresent something, speak out of turn or make a mistake, quickly admit it, apologize, work to resolve the issue and move on to the next issue.
  2. Don't try to cover it up, it will only make things worse.
  3. Don't react. Re-evaluate the situation and respond quickly but thoughtfully.
  4. Don't dodge the media. Focus on the facts and process.
  5. Seek the advice of an attorney and public relations professional before things get out of hand.

 

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Don't Dress Like a Mortician

That was the advice a memo from someone at Clifford Chance told the woman lawyers at the multi-national law firm in an effort to help them give better presentations. The advice was directed at the Clifford Chance women attorneys who make up a fraction of the 3,700 of their legal advisors.  The memo urges female lawyers to “practice hard words,” stop saying “like” and to button up, explaining “No one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage” and “Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.” Other tips on the memo include:

  • “Like” You’ve got to Lose “Um” and “Uh,” “You know,” “OK,” and “Like”
  • Don’t raise your pitch at the end of a statement if it’s not a question.
  • Lower the pitch — say “uh-huh” and match that pitch to how low you can go
  • Don’t qualify: “Kind of, sort of, just…”

Some of it is good advice that we need to be reminded every now and then but the rest -- Well I think there is better advice to give anyone giving a presentation. My advice,

  • Be yourself but professional.
  • Be natural but have fun.
  • Enjoy the moment, it's yours.

If you want other good presentation tips, Ragan.com posted 8 Things Never To Say During Your Presentation.

Following the release of the memo on the blog, Above the Law, a Clifford Chance representative said, “The original presentation and associated tips represented a personal perspective, shared with a group of colleagues, some just starting out in their careers.”  (See the rest of the memo here.)

If that is the case, then Clifford Chance should respond they way the memo was leaked and use social media to address the issue directly.  They should follow up with a blog post of their own and post it on their blog or website. I would not recommend they respond to concerns on Twitter or Facebook. If they do they will continue to contribute to the debate and if I were advising Clifford Chance, I would have them post a blog or statement and find opportunities to reinvest in the people of their firm to restore trust and their image, particularly women.

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When a Law Firm Fires The Governor's Wife

Tonight Lockhart/Gardner fired the Governor's wife. It was actually tonight's episode of The Good Wife, on CBS and in tonight's show, the partners found out that Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) was planning on leaving the law firm to start her own and take with her some of Lockhard/Gardner's largest clients, not to mention a number of associates and lead investigator. There is a lot to learn from watching a TV show. I get that every now and then from watching the Kardashians.  However, this one hits closer to home in terms of how I like to help clients, faced with high profile issues affecting their reputation -- as a lawyer, for a law firm and even for the Governor.

From an employer perspective....

  • Once information is learned about an employee that would warrant firing them. before acting based on emotion an employer should have all the facts, or at least enough to make a decision on high profile employment issues.
  • However, once the decision is made it must be communicated quickly and efficiently.  Today, Twitter is the best and quickest medium.
  • Before a tweet is sent, a firm or company should already have influential people following them - Work hard at pro-actively building upon your social network.
  • Invest in client relations. Today, law firms are too big, lawyers are too isolated and legal bills are too high. Business today is based on personal relationships, not on big law firm names. It is important to ensure your clients know that you are laser focused on their work -- So represent them as if they are your only client.
  • Work hard to communicate with your employees so these situations can be avoided in the future.

Good thing they had a public relations counselor waiting in the lobby to begin work on defending a major law firm against The Governor-elect's wife.

From the employee perspective...

  • Make sure you are also following the law as you prepare to leave your employer.
  • Be proactive in regards to getting everything in order, including notifying those that you can legally notify and what messages you are communicating in leaving.
  • Have a website ready to go, in addition to social media -- most likely Twitter and Facebook but also LinkedIn.
  • Know who the reporters are covering your industry and those of your clients, and make sure they know and trust you as a resource.

From the Governor's standpoint...

  • Be prepared with a statement but don't communicate it directly.
  • If confronted and asked in person stay on message.
  • Answer the questions directly and bridge to another issue.
  • Address the issue, don't avoid it.
  • Distance yourself from the business of others, particularly those that you are close to.
  • Ensure the public that this issue remains a separate issue outside of your work in the state and that you remain focused on the issues before you.

Regardless of which side you are on, make sure you have the necessary relationships with people to help you should you need it.  This includes lawyers, accountants, doctors and strategic public relations counsel. Trust is vital to the success in any business and we work hard to establish it. It is even harder to rebuild in the wake of crisis.  As we learned tonight, "politics leads, the law follows." Whatever comes your way, it is important to be prepared and know those that can help you should you need. it.

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Your company is the message with branded content

Today's New York Times reports that Harper's Magazine is "joining the growing list of media properties whose publishers are supplementing more traditional forms of advertising with sponsored content".  With the help of public relations professionals or advertising agencies, companies will be able to write the news stories, features and product reviews that appear in magazines and on-line that look like it is part of the magazine (which it is), but is actually an advertisement. It is a new era in how we purchase goods and services. With advances in technology at our fingertips and on our desktops, we do our own research into what we purchase and what solutions it solves, we seek advice from our friends, read the reviews and compare prices before we ever step into a store or office, if we ever do step inside.

As a result, a company's marketing strategy should have, at its core, a content marketing strategy, to create content that is engaging and informative, humorous if appropriate and timely given the news cycle. How that content is distributed will depend on a company's budget and a company should do its own due diligence to determine the best media or channel to distribute that content on.  For example, do your customers read Harper's, The Atlantic, New Yorker, Forbes or even the plethora of trade publications that only include native advertising opportunities for its content.

This is all part of a strategic planning process that your public relations counsel or marketing agency should take you through during your initial kick off meeting.

With the right content you can sell a product by selling solutions and in crafting the right messages, advertorial or branded content, you can take your message directly to those who you want to see it. However, depending who you want to read it and how you want them to see it will just depend on how much you want to spend.

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Build a Strategy not a Strategic Plan

Business Goals - Know what impact you want to have on the business and how you will measure it.  Develop a strategy around your business objectives…but not a tactical plan that could become irrelevant. Embrace technology and project Management tools to keep everyone aligned during implementation.

Create a 'channel strategy' and determine how and what media, web, blog, social networks and email can all work together and reinforce each other.

Develop a 'content strategy' and figure out what type of content do you want your brand to be associated with? Who are your experts? What topics do you and your customers care about? And then create content that is new and easily digestible, perhaps even fun to read with some infotainment factor.

Build a system or editorial calendar that provides timely relevant content that is interesting and sharable.

Recognize your assets - a spokesperson, a product a customer a community and ensure they have the resources. Create brand ambassadors.

Create a process - So everyone knows what they are resonsibe for and when, what requires approval, collaboration and insight

Focus on quality not a high idea that will go viral - that way you will build a reputation as a thought leader rather than a one hit wonder.

Evaluate your work, re-adjust and continue to align your business goals with your marketing plan.

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Lessons San Diego can learn from Detroit

While Detroit may have its' list of issues, the one thing San Diego can learn from Detroit is what to do when a mayor mirrored in controversy refuses to step down and allow the city they are supposed to serve wallow in his controversy. To help the city move forward the Mayor needs to resign and leaders in the community, including business leaders, the faith-based community and others must increase their calls for action.  Government leaders must do the same. This is not politics and should not be a partisan issue.  More specifically, members of the San Diego City Council should take collective action to remove the Mayor.

The President of the San Diego City Council, or whoever is next in-line to become Mayor, must also begin immediate steps in creating a transition plan, ensuring the public that they are on the job and taking back control.  Over the next 90 days the new Mayor needs to create a strategy where they remain very visible in the community and in the media.  Every day the new Mayor should be talking to people in the community, showing up at places throughout the city, in local restaurants at lunch and away from the city center and in the neighborhoods.  This includes meeting with key leaders, including business, faith-based, labor and regional leaders to talk about solutions for moving the city forward.  At that time, the new Mayor can start communicating their vision for the city and help shift the focus back to the important issues the city faces.

The new mayor should also meet with the media on a regular basis. Host briefings in their office and otherwise make their schedule public.  This also includes the national media as the rest of the country is watching. With each interview, the new mayor must reinforce that they are on the job, have taken control and putting this controversy behind to reinforce what makes San Diego a great city, focus on the vital issues that need attention and offer their vision for moving forward.

But before you have a new mayor, current Mayor Bob Filner has to step aside for the sake of the city's future. It is time to let go of an ego that got the former Mayor of Detroit in jail, not once, not twice but several times.  The mayor needs to stop avoiding the media and start talking.  Either set the record straight or face up to the mistakes you made. We all have issues, some worse than others and some more public than others. There will be some people that will be forgiving and others will not. However, elected officials have a responsibility to be accountable to the people who elected them and seeking therapy is not the answer.

Rather than seek shelter in therapy, get in front of the issue. The more you let it linger the more you let others talk about you and your city and the more difficult it will be to rebuild your reputation or the city's.  Finally, apologize and work hard on finding positive solutions that will help everyone heal and move on to more important issues.

Former South Carolina Governor tried to do it and now he is serving in Congress.  Former New York Governor Elliott Spitzer is trying to do it as is former Congressman Anthony Weiner. My mayor, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick did not do it and now sits in prison. However, former Portland Mayor Sam Adams served out his term despite admitting to inappropriate relationships. You can look to other countries as well, including Toronto, Montreal, Italy, Mexico and the Czech Republic for other examples or Mayors and other elected officials go wild.

Unfortunately, in politics and in government, scandals happen. People love power and sometimes the perks of elected offices gets to them. It is no excuse and  unfortunately, it is not uncommon, but as Mayor, Bob can take the steps to help everyone move forward and Detroit offers the perfect guide to stepping in that direction.

Daniel Cherrin is the founder of North Coast Strategies and served as the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to former Detroit Mayor Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr., following one of the most tumultuous times in Detroit's history, following the resignation of Kwame Kilpatrick.

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