Posted by Amanda Chapel
Taaffe Takes Strumpette for a Spin
This just into the newsroom...
Word has it that Hill and Knowlton's CEO Paul "Fancy Feet" Taaffe is planning to enter the 1st Annual World Salsa Championships later this year. The championships are scheduled to be held in Las Vegas, December 14 thru 17. Taaffe will join thousands of dancers from over 100 nations have entered to compete in this history-making competition. It will be broadcast live in multiple languages and on several international TV broadcast feeds, including ESPN International and ESPN Deportes.
By way of a little background, there are no strict rules of how salsa is danced, but there are basic moves: Forward Basic Movement and the Back Basic Movement. Variously coupled or combined and often with small variations in body position, these two movements create the "Salsa Moves." More elaborate combinations include: Splitting Hairs; Courtesy Walk; Twist and Turn; Switch Back and Stop and Turn.
According to his biography, Taaffe has been a professional sidestepper for more that 30 years. Taaffe currently teaches clients such as Kelloggs, American Express and GE Capital how to dance with the media. Paul most recently was in the news for teaching HP a few salsa moves amidst the board hacking scandal. Taaffe told H-P it had to "show that the board was not aware of the specifics of the investigation." Paul emphasized the need for the lack of awareness (Note: Switch Back move).
A week ago, I had a chance to take a spin with Paul. I had written him and asked simply for clarification on a point he made recently. Despite my cool demeanor, Paul, in tight black trousers dripping with PR mendacity, almost immediately turned up the heat. What a pro?! Frankly, the experience left me absolutely breathless.
EXCERPTS: Dancing with Paul "Fancy Feet" Taaffe
Chapel: I am interested in your point/counterpoint with Lou Capozzi at the ICCO World Summit. You said that you "question whether any public relations firm is ready to step up to the challenge of driving conversations, and doing so in a media neutral way." Your comment seems to underscore a huge inconsistency in the PR business today. Can you clear that up?
Fancy Feet: Help me out a little more Amanda; what inconsistencies in the PR business today? (Note: Switch Back move.)
Chapel: We are a long way from Ivy Lee. You know that Paul. We are at a point in the Industry's history where ironically the neutral facilitators of fact and credibility have become the instruments of the incredible. Your quote captures that ironically.
Fancy Feet: Oh Amanda a huge subject and not much time. I suspect you have misunderstood my statement but take heart that you are probably not alone. Rather than give you a speech; let me give you the headlines. (Note: Courtesy Walk move.)
PR is doing well and will do well, not as spin meisters but as the people who understand what the conversation is and where it goes and who is most important in driving it. PRs that try and actively hijack conversations will die but that has always been the case. The debate is on online only and bloggers; who cares? It is about the total conversation, about opinion formers and their relationships with each other and the media be that online or traditional/terrestrial. So unless you can map the conversation and the relationships in it; you can't do PR effectively as of 2006. We can but not in every arena. (Note: Twist and Turn move.)
Chapel: Let's revisit the quote we were trying to clarify. The linchpin is your word "neutral." PR as "influence" is being summarily rejected by a whole generation of web-savvy communicators. Your quote doesn't acknowledge that.
As to the quote you've provided, frankly, I think it sounds murky as hell. Again, I extend you the opportunity to clarify your point.
Lastly, As far as PR doing well, you may be confusing girth with wellness. A colleague of mine attended the ANA "Masters of Marketing" this last weekend. All the big cheese CMO's were there. Of note... "In fact, I heard not one PR related comment, speech reference, or hot button. Nada. Events, TV, Games and Product Placement, Promotion's, Print and web Ads - all being discussed as measurable drivers of business; everything but PR."
Fancy Feet: Please Amanda, why would you hear about PR at an ANA conference? You only hear about marketing vehicles that you can control at an ANA conference and PR does not suggest that it is such which why in the age of consumer control PR is a threat. Your dilemma is that you have taken a position that belies the wellness of PR. Go talk to the big holding companies and ask them where the growth is and where it isn't? (Note: Splitting Hairs with a little Twist and Turn and a Switch finale. Awesome.)
Chapel: First as to "Why would you hear about PR at an ANA conference?" There were a few PR notables in attendance... however, the report was that they were very low profile. The reason why one might expect a greater profile is that PR has become primarily a marketing function. Are you saying it's not?
As to "You only hear about marketing vehicles that you can control at an ANA conference and PR does not suggest that it is such..." That's a good quote. Does H&K measure results?
As to "why in the age of consumer control PR is a threat," a threat to whom? The only threat we hear is the one being voiced by people like Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia. PR (as a marketing vehicle) is being viewed as a threat to integrity.
As to "you have taken a position that belies the wellness," is it your contention that the business of PR is healthy? Is it possible for a business to be making a lot of money and the foundation of that business to be off kilter? Excuse me but the porn business does very well financially.
Lastly, as to "Go talk to the big holding companies and ask them where the growth is and where it isn't?" I thought I was.
Again, this sure would make a great feature. If you write something, I will print it without edit. Would you like the last word Paul?
Fancy Feet: It sure would but not know. (Note: Stop and Turn move.)
Chapel: Freudian, I think you meant "now." If you need more time, tell me. It's a crucial topic. If you actually mean "never," I am sure I have enough to go ahead and write something up with what we've got here.
Fancy Feet: More time, is the request. I am slammed and the topic is worthy of elaboration just cannot do it justice now. (Note: Courtesy Walk with Stop and Turn moves.)
Chapel (sent Wednesday, October 11): I totally understand Paul, truly. That said, could we please set a time? That would be most helpful.
Some PR dance experts have Paul a lock to win the World Salsa Championship. I am not sure. I am still a little flush and dizzy from the experience.
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This is funny, what's next -- Harold Burson on Dancing with the Stars. Seems like the best way to resurrect or sustain your career these days is to enter a dance contest. I wonder what Dilenschneider, Chris K., and other former H&K chiefs must be thinking. John Hill is spinning in his grave right now.