Author Archives: sdedeaux

High Fructose Corn Syrup’s PR Problem

Watching television a few days ago, and saw an ad featuring a rather agreeable-looking farmer with his daughter, moseying through a corn field, discussing the benefits of something I’d never heard of before, called corn sugar. High Fructose Corn Syrup, now that I’ve heard of. Cane sugar, also on my radar. But corn sugar? “This must be a new, healthy kind of sugar made from corn!” I took to The Google to search for this magical new sweetener to see what was up with it (they must have a mega budget to advertise during prime time television).
Guess what: Corn sugar is just High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS for short) with a fancy, new name.
There have been numerous studies done on the effects of HFCS, and so far, the results have been mixed. Corn growers, manufacturers, and the Corn Refiners Association insist that HFCS reacts exactly the same way table sugar does in the body, yet some research suggests that there is a direct correlation between obesity and the use of HFCS in soft drinks and shelf-stable, grab-and-go snacks. Princeton University released a study earlier this year, stating that sweeteners are “not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.”

I’m not a scientist or a doctor, and don’t pretend to understand how different types of sugars react in the body, but what interests me here, as HFCS gets rebranded as corn sugar, is how we, the public, even though we know better, can be influenced by a good marketing campaign. Instinctively and intuitively, my brain drew the conclusion that corn sugar was somehow natural and virtually unprocessed, but just by the nature of what it is (sugar… made from corn), there must be heavy process involved.
Upon doing a little more digging, I discovered that Big Corn has been courting mommy bloggers in an effort to spread their message. We know that mothers do the majority of the grocery shopping and are often the ones educating children on the values of eating apples instead of Dunkaroos. Some mommy bloggers have engaged in the conversation with CRA and have been convinced. It’s caused a stir in the blogger community, and popular blogger Jessica Gottlieb has spoken out on the subject, asking mothers “to collectively say ‘no thank you’ to processed foods.”

Food PR has taken center stage over the last several months. KFC released that crazy, attention-getting sandwich, artist Sally Davies let a Happy Meal sit out for 180 days, and photos of what mechanically separated chicken looks like before it’s molded into those strange loaves have all made front page headlines. Now High Fructose Corn Syrup’s producers are on the offensive, proactively working to reverse the mindset that it is one of the major causes of obesity, whether it is or not.
PR pros, I ask you: What would YOU do if Corn Refiners of America was your client, and your task was to rebrand HFCS as “natural”?

Esther Steinfeld is public relations manager for <>, a major online provider of custom window treatments.  In 2010, was named the No. 1 e-commerce company in Houston by the Houston Business Journal.


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Texas Tribune Editor Evan Smith Speaks at PRSA Houston September Luncheon

Smith was the guest speaker at PRSA Houston’s luncheon on Sept. 1, where he discussed the year-old media outlet’s mission to promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government, and other matters of statewide concern.

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Why Leaders Can’t NOT Communicate – Even as a Mortgage Company CEO

I love my job. I mean that. I look forward to Monday mornings on Sunday nights and when I took a half-day in April to attend a friend’s wedding, my boss had to force me out of the building when the time came. I genuinely enjoy what I do, and I believe in my employer.

A lot of my personal satisfaction comes from the fact that I simply love to write, paired with the constant state of ecstatic disbelief that someone is actually paying me to do it. I know I’m not in the majority; most of my friends either hate what they do or they can’t stand whom they do it for. I’ve always thought this was just a natural attitude toward the “dues paying” stage of the career life cycle I made up just now. I never stopped to think about why I believe in my company.

At the July PRSA Houston Workshop, David Grossman, president and founder of The Grossman Group, practically laid it out for me. Speaking on the subject of executive communications, Grossman said many executives have no idea how to communicate, often having been promoted for other reasons. However, while my company’s CEO prefers to handle much of the internal communication himself, he seems to have a natural handle on many of the ideas Grossman shared. That’s not to say his expertise is common knowledge. I know my college courses focused primarily on what we say to the public rather than maintaining corporate morale.

While working in the mortgage industry during the now waning housing crisis, being informed is crucial to establishing and maintaining employee morale during these troubling times. It’s hard to put forth your best effort and focus on the job at hand when the possibility of unemployment and the terrors of job hunting loom over your head. Nothing is neutral; even to stay silent during periods of uncertainty sends a strong message to the workforce. I have no way of knowing whether our CEO is familiar with Grossman or the ideas he shared, but my company’s leader seems to understand how powerful the messages he sends to his employees can be. He kept everyone informed, and I’m certain that it’s at least partially through those efforts that our organization made 2009 its most profitable year in its 22-year history.

According to Grossman, employees want to know answers to eight key questions.  Our CEO provided those answers throughout the housing crisis. The questions are arranged in a hierarchy beginning with a desire to know how the individual fits into the organization and ending with how the company is functioning as a whole. It’s knowing the answers to these questions that helps establish a vested interest in the company and the sense of security that goes hand in hand with a feeling of sustainability from the organization.

1.     What is my job?

2.     How am I doing?

3.     Does the organization care about me?

4.     What’s going on with the company and with my personal status?

5.     What is our business strategy?

6.     How is the company doing as a whole?

7.     What are our vision and values?

8.     How can I help?

It’s also important to note that whenever industry or corporate change occurs, we return to question one.

What many executives don’t understand is that communication sends the message that they mean business. According to research Grossman presented, effective employee communications is a leading indicator of financial performance and a driver of how engaged employees are with their companies. Organizations that are led by highly effective communicators had a 47 percent higher total return to shareholders over the past five years compared to firms with less effective communicators.

It’s not that business leaders don’t want to communicate, but rather that they believe one or more of three common myths about employee communication. They think they don’t have time to communicate, or that they don’t have time to plan for it. But as Grossman pointed out, companies typically allocate time to clean up a mess, but don’t always invest time to prevent a crisis.

Another myth is that people won’t react to a lack of communication. However, people naturally interpret just about everything. Even if we stay silent, it is in our nature to speculate and theorize amongst our peers as to where the organization and our jobs stand.

As for the third myth, many leaders believe that simply talking is communicating. However, communication is much more involved than that. It requires listening, acting, purpose and strategy. Communication is a two-way street. We have to listen to those we entrust with the day-to-day responsibilities to create positive employee engagement.

It’s important to practice and plan communication. I don’t know what my CEO’s strategy is when planning his communications, but he inherently understands how much it affects his employees’ performance. It’s the reason our company has thrived while others have failed. It’s the reason I love where I am and intend to stay there for quite awhile.  It’s the reason I look forward to the Monday morning grind as soon as the final credits of The Simpsons roll on Sunday nights.

Jason Saenz is a public relations writer/editor at Cornerstone Mortgage Company and has been a member of PRSA Houston since January 2010.

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Want more success working with the Houston Chronicle?

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Sage Advice

Did you miss PRSA Houston’s April luncheon? Don’t worry. With this video, we captured a few of the sages giving career advice. Thanks, Ed Davis (PRSA Houston board member and director of communications at the United Way of Greater Houston).


Filed under Crisis Communications, Mentoring, Professional Development, Public Relations, Uncategorized

Finding Mr. Miyagi

Believe it or not, the movie The Karate Kid has influenced what most of us expect from mentoring relationships.

Mr. Miyagi takes young Daniel LaRusso, the underweight outsider bullied in his new school, under his wing. With patience and commitment, Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel about succeeding in martial arts and life.

Wax on. Wax off.

By the end of the movie, Daniel’s life has been transformed.

In the real world, mentoring takes many forms and it doesn’t always conform to popular preconceptions. The current landscape of our profession requires us to stay on our toes. Knowledge sharing enriches us all. Developing mentoring relationships can be a rewarding experience for the protégé (I hate the word “mentee”) as well as the mentor.

Mentoring is simply when someone helps someone else learn something. The image many of us have of seasoned pros forming lifelong bonds with fresh-faced college graduates, helping them navigate the peaks and valleys of their careers is a limited view of what mentoring has to offer. A mentor is also not responsible for helping a protégé find a new job.

In the real world, mutually beneficial relationships can develop between peers, or around a specific topic or issue that one professional faces in his or her career. Throughout your career, expect your mentoring needs to change.

At the April luncheon, the PRSA Houston chapter will offer a different type of program and provide a venue for informal mentoring.

Rather than our typical speaker presentation, we will facilitate conversations at the luncheon tables with several of Houston’s PR sages. This format provides a unique opportunity for attendees to tap into the minds of some of Houston best-known PR professionals — leaders of their fields in a variety of industries.

Around the table, PRSA Houston members and guests will also have opportunities to exchange ideas and information around shared interests that will undoubtedly promote peer-to-peer mentoring and help expand professional networks like few other events could.

While the idea of finding your Mr. Miyagi may seem as unrealistic as mastering the “crane kick,” open your mind to the many possibilities mentoring has to offer and you’re sure to reap the benefits.

Stephanie Dedeaux, APR is an independent public relations consultant and 2010 PRSA Houston chapter president.

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More on January’s Luncheon Topic “Context is Decisive”

Most people seldom think about the air that surrounds them and about how it provides an essential life-giving ingredient, oxygen. We take it for granted because it appears to be “just the way things are;” only when we are deprived of it does it become frighteningly apparent that we need it.

Context, much like the air that we breathe, is transparent precisely because of its everyday occurrence – its institutionalized normative features in the cultures of our companies and our projects. And because we basically think of ourselves as doing our best at most times and that we are unbiased in our perceptions, we feel the current “context” is obvious or simply “the that way life is.”

Enormous challenges in project implementation exist as people struggle to map new ways of thinking, new practices or operating tools, onto firmly entrenched habits of the “as is” context of their organization.

We will investigate the role of one’s current context, in shaping what one thinks, how one’s project team interacts, the decisions you and your teams make and the actions you and they take in your daily work. We will uncover leverage points distinguishing how one might go from executing a “good enough” project to creating a new context for implementing a “breakthrough project.”

Contributed by Pauline Serice with King, Chapman & Broussard, who is an expert in performance-based leadership development and change. management

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