Dodgers Handling of TV Impasse: A Lesson in Bad PR

By Howard Ruben

Mar 15, 2016
originally posted on LinkedIn

Talk about a PR disaster: The Los Angeles Dodgers should be ashamed of themselves for making an astronomically huge $8.35 billion, 25-year deal with Time Warner Cable in February 2014, essentially shutting out the majority of TV viewers from watching their beloved franchise.

Barring a miracle, April will mark the third consecutive season where more than 50 percent of households in the L.A. area are shut out from watching the Dodgers perform on television. Make no mistake, Time Warner Cable is equally culpable for agreeing to this sour deal, thinking they’d recoup money by charging other carriers $4-5 per subscriber to carry the new SportsNet LA cable channel as part of a bundled Sports Tier package. Satellite provider DirecTV and other cable carriers balked, leaving forlorn fans out in the cold. And not very happy.

Time Warner was foolish in its assumption that it could make back its crazy “investment” by passing along those costs to other carriers anxiously wanting to carry the exclusive broadcasts. And, while it is easy to see why someone would gleefully take an $8.35 billion deal, the Dodgers have created an awful PR mess by rarely communicating with its fan base, among the most loyal in all of sports.

Dodger fans were thrilled to see money being spent on the farm system and free agency. But, they never bargained for this. Not only is most of L.A. shut out from watching the Dodgers on TV, they are also unable to see the legendary Vin Scully broadcast those televised games (though he will be accessible via radio on AM570). Now 88, Scully will retire after this season, his record-breaking 67th as play-by-play announcer for the Dodgers.

Yes, Time Warner and Charter Communications are closing in on a mega-merger that may partly resolve the cable impasse; though it probably won’t change the thinking of such satellite providers as DirecTV. Federal regulators could drag this thing on for months. As it stands, the Dodgers continue to blame everyone but themselves.

Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke makes a strong case for why Dodgers ownership owes it to their fans to do something, anything, about this situation. 

“Maybe it's too late to change the contract to make it palatable for both parties — they lost all leverage with DirecTV — but surely they can afford some loss to forge some solution or at least put some of these games on free TV until a deal is done. It is the Dodgers' brand that is suffering, and it will soon be Scully's legacy that is suffering. Ultimately it is the Dodgers responsibility to the community to make that right.”

The Dodgers and owner Mark Walter are not legally bound to do anything with regards to televising the team’s games. But, the longer they mishandle a sensitive PR situation that is alienating thousands, the harder it becomes to pull that fan base back into the fold.

Discovering the 'real' Amy Winehouse

Many of us (myself included) first heard Amy Winehouse when she released the pop hit, "Rehab". It was a monster best-seller, but really didn't amplify her natural talent as one of the best young jazz singer/songwriters to appear on the music scene in years.

One of the joys of watching the otherwise tragic documentary, 'Amy', was the chance to really get to know what an unbelievable singer/songwriter she was. Her talents as a writer and vocalist were off the charts. But, Amy's demons and frail insecurities were just as powerful. And painful to watch as media hounds swooped in on Winehouse as she spiraled downward.

Amy Winehouse was a once-in-a-generation jazz/pop singer with unlimited potential. As her idol Tony Bennett told The Guardian: "Of all the contemporary artists I've worked with, she has the most natural jazz voice. Her phrasing and tone – she's got it."

Their intimate rendition of "Body and Soul" recorded in London shortly before Amy's death at 27 was the highlight of Bennett's Duets II album and a masterfully touching part of the film. Two of the many great reviews of 'Amy': and

Howard Ruben Communications combines expert writing skills, a strong journalism background and 20+ years of strategic PR to form a unique communications agency. Clients look to Howard Ruben Communications to create compelling content that plays across multiple media platforms. On the Side utilizes both curated and original content.

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A Healthy Diet of Organic PR is Good Food for Your Brand

originally published April 28, 2015 on Food Connector

If you want to publicize a food product that’s billed as natural or organic, you’d be well advised to start with a marketing program that looks and feels organic in its execution.

The first step in coordinating an effective PR program for your food brand is to create messages that are straightforward and easy to understand. Consumers have long been fed a steady diet of what constitutes good and bad ingredients in the food and beverages they purchase. Those messages are often confusing, as guidelines change and medical studies disprove old assumptions.

Certain foods and beverages (i.e., red wine and dark chocolate) were once thought of as indulgent consumption, before studies began to reveal their health benefits. Yet, there have been recent reports (per Forbes) that seem to contradict those findings.

Mixed messages make it hard on serving up a truly organic PR campaign. The best advice is to believe in your [pr love] product and story, and craft messages that do not underestimate your audience. Here are some essential ingredients to consider when crafting a PR/Marketing campaign for your brand:

Be truthful– Be prepared to back up claims about your product. That’s especially relevant in the food industry, where regulations are increasingly stringent. As a PR firm, it makes our job easier to know that what we are promoting is truly what it claims to be. Subway was “outed” by food blogger Vani Hari, (known as Food Babe), for using the food additive azodicarbonamide to bleach flour and condition dough (per The World Health Organization has linked the substance to asthma in people. Subway did the right thing by quickly and publicly announcing their intention to phase out the additive, telling NPR: “We are already in the process of removing azodicarbonamide as part of our bread improvement efforts, despite the fact that it is a USDA and FDA approved ingredient.”

In another example, Kraft was using artificial dyes in three varieties of its popular macaroni and cheese offerings in 2013 when a nationwide petition by prompted the food giant to remove them. Kraft denied that the petition, signed by well over 350,000 people, had anything to do with their decision to remove the dyes. (via Not necessarily the best PR maneuver.

Be authentic– Your message should convey exactly who and what you are.  California Avocados are a perfect example in this organically presented spot.

Be unique– what makes your product different? Why would someone want to buy from you? Your organic story doesn’t always have to shake up the world. It could involve humor, insight or even nostalgia. What’s important is that it should be an honest, direct reflection of you and your brand. Nature’s Path mixes humor with a straightforward message in a 30-second TV spot.

Presentation – In today’s 24/7 world of information, people have very short attention spans. How your product looks on the shelf (or on a website) is critical as first impressions mean everything. Field Roast products get high marks for presentation and explanation of their ingredients.

A recent Gallup Poll found that 45 percent of all Americans actively try and include organic food into their diets. Consumers want to eat foods that are natural and organic, even if they are not always sure what constitutes natural or organic.

Some big brands, such as McDonald’s, seem a bit disingenuous in proclaiming their affinity for natural products. In an interview last year (Bloomberg Business), McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson said his company would consider adding organics in their products as a way to boost sales. On the other hand, McDonald’s is not claiming to be a bastion of healthy eating, so that transparency is probably the best way to present their decision to add organics.

There exists a commonality between healthy, organic food and a PR plan built around an authentic message. I often tell clients to consider an “organic” approach to their PR; to stay on message and avoid hyperbole, the “antibiotic” of the marketing universe.

Our agency has turned away business where we felt the story or product didn’t ring true. Like food that proclaims to be natural but is filled with nasty additives and preservatives, a PR program with too many shady, mysterious ingredients leaves a bad aftertaste.

Organic PR is about telling an authentic, truthful story of real, organic products that a consumer can rely on. It’s that simple.

Staying warm and dry outside has never been so complicated.

New and improved insulating materials are creating a wealth of new options in coats. Wool, down and polyester are being treated and blended in new ways as manufacturers seek to make the perfect coat—one that works as well at a mall as it does on a mountain. But sorting out the cruelty-free down from the washable wool, “hydrophobic’’ synthetics and various blends can make buying an insulated coat a full-on research project.

The new textile technology is being driven in part by changes in people’s outdoors activities. Apparel manufacturers are finding that people spend less time out of doors, but work more intensely when they are outside. Busy lives leave less time for leisurely all-day hikes. But plenty of weekend warriors run, snowshoe or participate in other sweat-inducing sports. They get in and out of heated cars. All this demands versatile outerwear that provides warmth but also releases moisture and breathes.

Outdoor enthusiasts are demanding better fashion as well—slimmer fits especially—as the lines blur between athletic wear and daily apparel. Apparel makers are keenly aware that their Instagram and Facebook-loving consumers want to be forever photo-ready. “The new outdoor athletes in their ’20s just won’t wear it if they think it doesn’t look good,” says Greg Thomsen, U.S. managing director of Adidas Outdoor, a unit of the global athletic-wear giant.

For decades, the choice for a parka’s insulation was between down and synthetic materials. Down, made of goose or duck plumage, was luxurious, lightweight and packable, but it was expensive and lost its ability to insulate when wet. Synthetics—made of polyester fibers—were bulky and heavy, but warmed even when damp.[Polartec Alpha is a highly compressible insulation fabric.] ENLARGE
Polartec Alpha is a highly compressible insulation fabric. Photo: Polartec

Some of the latest innovations are being driven by two big U.S. apparel-insulation manufacturers, PrimaLoft and Polartec. The U.S. military inspired some recent improvements in synthetics a few years ago by asking U.S. manufacturers to develop warm, dry and lightweight alternatives to down for soldiers working in mountainous terrain. “Special forces can’t just layer up and layer down when people start shooting at them,” says Doug Kelliher, vice president of product management at Polartec, which developed a polyester insulation for the military and then introduced it to consumers three years ago, branding it “Alpha.” Like fuzzy lace, the fibers are knitted together and laid on a mesh material that doesn’t bunch, so coats don’t need to be quilted or baffled (with extra pockets of down sewn in).

Outdoor Research won a “2016 Gear of the Year” award from Outside Magazine for its $299 UberLayer jacket, insulated with the Polartec Alpha material. The award noted the jacket’s ability to move moisture away from the body during heavy activity

Mountain Khakis, a brand that focuses on highly functional everyday clothes, is using the “hydrophobic” Alpha insulation in outdoor workwear. “It dries 60% faster than other synthetics, and it’s more breathable,” says Noah Robertson, Mountain Khakis’ co-founder and director of product development and design.

Concerns about sustainability and animal cruelty are also fueling innovations. A pioneer in environmentally friendly production, Patagonia pledges that its down is cruelty-free and traceable—meaning it can be traced back to birds that were never force-fed or live-plucked.

PrimaLoft—used by outdoor apparel makers from Marmot to Adidas—has also initiated a “traceable down” program, hiring third-party auditors to inspect its producers, which are mainly in China. “We can trace our down all the way to the egg,” says Mike Joyce, PrimaLoft’s president and chief executive.

PrimaLoft is shifting its production of synthetic fibers over to recycled polyester. (Currently about 20% of its synthetics are recycled.) The company is blending natural materials like down and wool with synthetics, and it is treating down with a water-repellent substance. PrimaLoft is also testing wool-blend insulation, which it expects to see on apparel in stores by 2017.

PrimaLoft’s down-synthetic blends, launched in 2013, are being used by outdoor brands including Helly Hansen and Black Diamond, whose Hot Forge Hoody, with PrimaLoft’s “Gold” down-synthetic blend insulation, won a 2015 “Editors Choice” award from Backcountry Magazine.

New treatments are even making old-fashioned wool more versatile. Smartwool—known for its washable wool T-shirts, socks and other apparel—is using wool as an insulating material in jackets designed for running and other winter exercise that generates body heat. For its “SmartLoft” insulation, wool fibers are rolled, creating an effect like split ends on hair, says Eric Henderson, a Smartwool spokesman. Based in Colorado, he says he went skinning—a form of cross-country skiing—in one of the jackets last week. “I got home, it was stinky, I just threw it in the [washing] machine."

In my own trials of about a dozen styles of coats, the down-synthetic blend failed to match the sheer light packable pleasure of 100% down, yet it didn’t seem that much lighter than the full-on synthetics. (Mr. Joyce says that may be because of heavy outer fabrics.)

The pleasures of down are many—not the least of which is the price these days. A glut of down has prices lower than in many years, and that is reducing the cost of down coats to bring them on par with synthetics.

Smartwool’s lay-flat technology and stretch materials created some of the most stylish designs I saw. For wicking and fast-dry qualities—issues of survival in the wilderness, if not the mall—the new synthetics are hard to beat. David Newey, director of global marketing for PrimaLoft, points to North Face’s ThermoBall jackets, which use PrimaLoft insulation that the company says is as compressible as down and is ultra-fast-drying. “You could fall into a lake, and it would dry while you hike back to safety,” Mr. Newey says.

Dear U.S. Soccer Federation: Acknowledge Success of Women’s National Team & Pay Them

originally published on LinkedIn April 4, 2016

Come on U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) – show a little respect. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize how much more exciting (and better) the U.S. Women’s National Team is than its male counterpart. Your timing is awful.

USSF has failed to recognize the women’s body of work and continues to pay individual players much less than the men. Despite winning last summer’s World Cup (a record third title) and being defending Olympic champions, the women’s request for an upgrade in pay has fallen on deaf ears.

The women's players association is seeking to have its expired collective bargaining agreement (CBA) renegotiated while U.S. Soccer argues that both sides agreed in 2012 to extend the CBA until December of 2016. What should have been a celebratory run-up to the Summer Games in Brazil has now turned into a tense dispute that could threaten actual participation by the U.S. Women.

Both sides have now fired salvos at each other, with the latest coming last week week. Five stars of the 2015 World Cup Championship team - Captain Carli Lloyd, goalkeeper Hope Solo, midfielder Megan Rapinoe, defender Becky Sauerbrunn and striker Alex Morgan – filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the validity of the CBA.  CONTINUE READING

Blind Since Birth, Son of Legendary Singer O.C. Smith is Busting Barriers: Robert F. Smith Overcomes Challenges by Challenging Others

By Howard Ruben (Originally published on LinkedIn, July 14, 2016)

As the son of a Grammy Award winning singer (O.C. Smith (Little Green Apples), Robert F. Smith was born into a privileged life. But, he learned growing up that life can throw you curve-balls and you must be ready to adapt to each and every pitch. Like being blind since birth.

Despite the many highs and lows life threw at him, Robert eventually realized how blessed he was. And, to show the world his gratitude, Robert created the Little Green Apples Project, which seeks to inspire a million acts of intentional kindness. His mission: donate a percentage of profits from his new Toss’n Towel™ game to those most in need. A second goal: send 10,000 Toss’n Towel games to veterans, deployed military, boys and girls clubs and senior centers through his current campaign on Indiegogo.

Robert confidently says he sees through other people's eyes. "I've been blind since birth, but it hasn't slowed me down one bit. In fact, it's inspired me to take on more challenges every day. Like learning to throw a baseball 60'6" to home plate or how to drive a race car! After this, who knows - I may challenge myself to parachute out of an airplane. Why not?"

Robert is a singer and businessman who feels no obstacle is too big to overcome. As a way to bring attention to his project, Robert is on a mission to be the first blind man to throw out the ceremonial pitch and sing the national anthem at every professional ballpark in America.

He recently did just that at McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Triple A farm team of the Boston Red Sox. Last year, Robert sang and tossed the first pitch at an Oakland A's home game, and opened the season throwing out the ceremonial ball at the Iowa movie site of Field of Dreams.

Robert is energy personified. He’s working on an all-star singing tour to start this fall, learning to drive a race car through an obstacle course and challenging business and entertainment celebrities to a “blind pitch-off” to benefit charities.

"Performing an act of kindness can be quite simple," he says. "Help someone cross the street. Ask your neighbors how their family is doing. Take some magazines to a senior center or thank a veteran for their service. It adds up and makes us all better people."

It would be easy to hear Robert's story and feel empathy. But, the Long Beach native will have none of that. He's too busy reaching out to friends and strangers alike, challenging them to be the best they can be.

"Even a blind man can see that one act of legitimate kindness makes the world a better place."

NOTE: Current versions of the Toss'n Towel game include the Original Little Green Apples, Toss'n Reef, and Toss'n Baseball. Coming next year: Toss'n Football, Basketball and Soccer editions. A portion of net proceeds from Robert’s Toss’n Towel go to support Boys and Girls Clubs of America (select regions),  Pitch In For Baseball and the National Alliance of Resident Services in Affordable and Assisted Housing (NAR-SAAH). 


Howard Ruben Public Relations

          a communications agency created by journalists


Technology Changing the Way We Stay Warm & Dry

Like so many other advancements that originated out of a need from the government or military, Insulation technology in clothing has evolved to meet demands of a consumer base that seeks lightweight, breathable, comfortable outerwear that can easily switch between function and fashion.

Goldwin Sports is just one example of a major brand  utilizing such advancements. The Wall Street Journal's Christina  Binkley reveals some very unique, ground-breaking innovations in her recent story: The Warm (and Stylish) Technology in Your Jacket.   CONTINUE READING