ON CRISIS: EPISODE 11
THE “ON CRISIS” PODCAST: EPISODE 11
Michael Marr serves as the Director of Government Relations & Compliance for Encina, an environmental technology start-up company planning a $1.1 billion investment in a circular plastics recycling plant. Marr has led public affairs and crisis communications responses for some of the world’s top companies, including BP and Shell. In 2008, he was on the frontline of the shutting down and restarting BP’s operations during the historic Hurricane Ike disaster. Recently, he led public affairs for Shell’s multi-billion dollar ‘cracker’ plant in Beaver, Pennsylvania – managing environmental group protests on one hand and shutting down and restarting operations during the pandemic, which impacted 8,000 employees.
But perhaps what is most interesting about Marr is his experience before corporate America. Marr worked on Capitol Hill and then went out to serve New York’s Governor George Pataki including as press secretary and as the state’s lead economic development spokesperson in the 18 months that followed 9/11. The state’s role in the economic recovery and redevelopment of lower Manhattan that reshaped the city’s skyline – was impacted by Marr.
So what is Marr’s take on today’s media landscape and how “cancel culture” and social media sentiment is shaping public policy? This episode is timely as after a decade under construction, Pennsylvania’s Shell Cracker plant is finally poised to open.
Episode 11: Michael Marr - Former NY Governor Press Secretary
Read the Transcript
Joanna Doven (00:07):
I’m Joanna Doven. This is “On Crisis”, bringing together PR experts, thought leaders, creatives, and CEOs here to start conversations and connect people with real-life stories in crisis communications. It’s been a long time since we’ve had an episode of “On Crisis”. We took about a three-month hiatus here, lots going on in my world. Big move, new offices, new home. Anyhow, I wanted to kick it off with a really, really good guest. And I’m so happy that Michael Marr joined us. Michael Marr is somebody who I worked with during a period of time when the Shell chemical plant was underway in Pennsylvania. Now, this was one of the largest industrial builds in the United States’ entire history. And it was not without controversy because there were a lot of environmental groups that were involved with, you know, trying to, you know, shut the thing down.
Joanna Doven (01:06):
COVID-19 hit and 8,000 employees needed to be laid off. So Michael Marr ran all the external affairs during that time for Shell. But his background prior to Shell is more interesting to me, I have to be honest from ’98 to 2007, Mar served for New York, Governor George Pataki, including us, his official press secretary. So he and I have that press secretary connection. He also was appointed to the lead to lead the task force on economic development in New York City after 9/11. So, so basically what happened after 9/11 is lower Manhattan was rebuilt and it was because of a lot of state investment and Michael Marr helped to lead that right now, he is serving as the Director of Government Relations and Compliance for Encina, which is an environmental tech startup company that’s planning a 1.1 billion investment in a circular plastics recycling plant, right here in Pennsylvania. So he’s back in the corporate world. But we talk a lot about his overall insights as a wise man, with regard to top crises, how he’s managed them, lessons learned, how he sees the media being shaped differently by elected officials and social media, and it’s just a really good episode. Can’t wait for you to hear it! Michael, I’m so excited to have you on as really the inaugural guest for 2022.
Michael Marr (02:44):
Well, thanks. I’m looking forward to the discussion, Joanna.
Joanna Doven (02:47):
So we’ve taken a long break really because I of my personal life I’ve been moving, you know, there’s been work has been so busy, which is a good thing. I’m not complaining, but the podcast is, is really one of my favorite things to do because I get to not only keep that brain moving, right? And you’re not just not just doing the everyday client work, but really taking all the knowledge that I’ve gained and that guests have gained over long periods of time and just spitballing, you know?
Michael Marr (03:20):
Joanna Doven (03:21):
So you are an exceptional guest to have especially because of the timing that’s happening right now in Southwestern, Pennsylvania related to the famous, or as some would call it infamous project that you were an integral part of. Tell us about your role with Shell and really what you were doing here in Western PA for the past, you know, right now you’ve moved on to a new company, but for 10 years, that’s right year. Right. Tell us about that.
Michael Marr (03:51):
Yeah. For, for nine years from 2012, shortly after Shell made the announcement about the site selection through a little less than a year ago end of July 2021, I was with Shell and in, in roles related to public outreach, public affairs, media relations related to the Pennsylvania facility that is now in its final stages of transitioning from construction into operations. And I, I say that not as somebody who, who knows anything from the inside perspective, I left the company approximately one year ago, but the company’s made public statements to that effect in, in recent weeks and months.
Joanna Doven (04:31):
Right. And this is a big deal. I mean, if, if you’re, if, if you’re following anything related to the energy industry, this, this cracker plant was, you know, the largest in the U.S., correct?
Michael Marr (04:45):
The largest construction project in the U.S. There are other projects of similar size and scope down on the Gulf Coast. The really unique thing about this project was it’s it’s location. And it was Shell decided to build it here for two reasons. And again, I’m not revealing any company secrets. I said this many times publicly when I work for the company but the, the two reasons are proximity to the supply, the, the natural gas supplies in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, and West Virginia and then location closer to the customers in the Gulf Coast.
Joanna Doven (05:20):
Michael Marr (05:20):
So a lot of the demand for the products that will come out of that facility, which are plastic pellets are in the Northeastern U.S.. And so we have a much shorter delivery timeframe to our customer, or Shell does, to their customers. And Shell has stated that they, you know, believe that will give them a competitive advantage and their customers better service.
Joanna Doven (05:44):
Mm-Hmm, love it, love it. And it’s, it’s so funny, you know, because, you know, while you were really knee deep in, in this project and you’re leading external affairs and and you you’ve worked with Shell for a long time, right? And well you did.
Michael Marr (05:59):
Yeah. I came on for the, for the project and so nine years I, I was with them. And, and, you know, my scope changed a little bit. I had some responsibility for the us chemicals assets before there was a final investment decision made on the, on the Shell project in Beaver County. Then after that happened in due course, my, my focus shifted to solely that project. And the company moved me from Houston, where I had been up to Western PA, which I was very happy about.
Joanna Doven (06:29):
And, and when we talk about things like crisis communications, there’s the actual crisis that sometimes you have to deal with when you’re in a big role that you had, where you’re dealing with, you know, hurricanes and natural weather events that impact some of your sites, which, which you had to deal with in what, in, in Houston. There was, there was an incident in, in Alaska. But what’s unique about the Pennsylvania site is, you know, construction went, well, many people were employed. Of course, now, you had to deal with shutting the plant down during COVID 19 and how to communicate that. And then also I wanna touch on both of these things, what I will call these salt on plastics, right?
Michael Marr (07:13):
Joanna Doven (07:13):
Where now all of a sudden, you’re, you know, construction’s in its course and all over the news is how plastics are hurting. The ocean. Straws are being banned from restaurants, plastic bag bands, every city, it feels like all that. So how, how was, when you talk about crisis communications, let’s just, let’s just talk about how hard it was to be proactive when there wasn’t an actual, real, like physical, you know direct, you know, tragedy, like sometimes you’ve had to deal with.
Michael Marr (07:56):
So with regard to the, the construction phase of the plant, you know, the, the, the really very large workforce there made it easy to kind of bring a focus to what, what was, you know, being offered by the company in terms of economic development and jobs for the region. But you’re correct to point out that, that there is a, a really global environmental crisis related to plastic waste and that plastic waste ending up in the ocean. Shell actually had the benefit of, of being a new entrant into the, the polyethylene market. This is the first plant of it’s kind, that Shell will be building. And so they were able to kind of look at it with fresh eyes and quickly acknowledge that “Yes, that this is a problem. We, as an industry leader, need to talk to other industry members about being proactive around this.”
Michael Marr (08:53):
And Shell was one of the original members of a group called the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which is a, which is a broad industry-driven consortium that you know, basically acknowledges that there’s a problem and we have to do better than we’ve been doing. And ultimately the goal I, and, and really the solution Shell would tell you is a circular economy wherein the plastic waste is broken down into the composite chemicals or perhaps fuel to run the plants, to make those composite chemicals. And then new plastic products are created.
Joanna Doven (09:31):
Michael Marr (09:31):
Now, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s easy to say, some people do, “Well we should ban plastic.” That’s all well and good, but it, but if you have a, a, a replacement for it, nobody does, we’re not gonna go back to wood crates nor should we we’re not gonna go back to glass bottles,
Joanna Doven (09:47):
Diapers, diapers, diapers…
Michael Marr (09:50):
Or great, cloth diapers. Some people choose to do that, but most people would prefer the, the, the plastic variety. So, you know, absent a viable replacement. It’s just, it’s just a, non sequitur really to say, “Well, we should ban plastic.” What I see as the solution, and indeed, the company I went to work for is, is, you know, very much involved in this. It’s creating a circular economy wherein the, what is now treated is waste becomes feed stock and circularity and more permanent products can be produced. And that circularity gets driven over and over again.
Joanna Doven (10:32):
Interesting. So you’re working for Encina now as the Director of Government Relations and Compliance.
Michael Marr (10:38):
Joanna Doven (10:38):
And it’s, it’s an environmental tech startup, right?
Michael Marr (10:42):
Yeah. That, that’s, that’s one way of, of looking at it. That’s certainly how I look at it. The, their initial goal is to build a plant in Central Pennsylvania that will do what I just described: Take, take plastic waste break it down in the composite chemicals, sell those chemicals into the market so that they in turn can make other plastic products. And I, you know, encourage people, not just to think about straws and, and, and plastic bottles, which frankly maybe aren’t essential to our way of being, yeah, listen, I’m a little better, I’ve got a plastic cup.
Joanna Doven (11:13):
Well, you know, I have to just say, I mean, I think, you know, I, I do, you know, I’ve done crisis communications trainings for clients and media trainings and all that stuff. And one of the, I, I cite this example where there’s a CEO, there was just a, a, a, I forget the name. It was in West Virginia, I think. There was that there was that toxic spill and nobody could get safe water. And he’s at a press conference. And he’s drinking water out of a plastic bottle while he’s giving his, and here I am talking about plastics and I’m drinking outta a bottle <laugh> while I just moved. We all know, you know, but I just moved. And my life’s a little bit, you know, not as organized as usual. So I, I just, I grabbed, I had to grab and go here today, but-
Michael Marr (11:53):
And you’re also not the, the leader of a company that deprived 300,000 West Virginians of clean water in their homes. So I think you’re okay.
Joanna Doven (12:00):
Exactly. I’m okay. I’m okay. <Laugh> Um so, but back to the, sort of this, this idea of, of the circular con of, you know, plastics industry what’s the real deal, I mean, is there, you know, is there an industry for this? I mean, are… Okay, so you think of social media chatter and, and how news becomes news these days. I just saw a report in the Wall Street Journal you know, nine out of 10 journalists use Twitter for news to share news to- it’s the bubble. Like, it’s the reporter bubble. Only three out of 10 Americans go to Twitter for their news. Most of them are going to Instagram and Facebook, it’s like eight out of 10. So the, the, what I’m gonna call the “assault on plastics”, and yes, there is an environmental need to cut down on plastics. I’m not saying that, but it really got exacerbated by the Twitter sphere, right. It, it grew from the Twitter sphere. So, so the, the need to have new companies have innovative solutions like Encina, I mean, is there really a market for it? Where is this market?
Michael Marr (13:13):
So think of yourself as a chemical company that makes you know, base chemicals and, you know, you’re, you’re feeling the pressure too, because, you know, your base chemicals are being used to make plastic and, you know, you have investors and other stakeholders and activists attacking you or questioning you perhaps and you know, that there is a market for recycled circular recycled from, from that those companies perspective. And in fact, they may be even willing to pay premium on it. So I don’t think there’s much question in the marketability of it it’s that, that companies that are stepping up have to be able to prove out their technologies and show that they can, you know, do this on a large scale, you know?
Joanna Doven (13:58):
Michael Marr (13:58):
The chemical industry is at the very least regional, but really it’s global. And it’s, if it’s regional, it’s region by region and so, you know, you have to, you have to be a company I think that can span and deliver, you know, at a minimum across the, the U.S. Map, if you’re gonna be credible or perhaps to some extent, you know, between different continents.
Joanna Doven (14:21):
Makes complete sense. And, you know, I, I’m not sure if you’re have been following the B-Corp movement at all? The B Corp movement, which is essentially, you know, ESG, Environmental and Sustainable Government. You know, there’s pressure from people who are investing money into mutual funds and stocks and bonds, right? They’re asking their financial advisors, “I want to invest money into ESG funds, into B-Corps”. B-Corps, like I would say, they, they have to go through certification, but they have to prove that all of their downstream companies or contractors are environmentally-friendly, sustainable, things like that. That’s, that’s a, that’s all a growing movement. And so I can under, I can really understand how, how scenic can is going to be positioned for, for growth and success now onto what I think is more fun, sorry, even though plastics is interesting. I mean, I, we both have it a similar background, which is why we got along so well when we first met. I was the former press secretary to the mayor of Pittsburgh, worked in government for a long time. And, but I have to say my resume pales in comparison to yours because you-
Michael Marr (15:36):
Well, I got a few years on you, Joanna. I mean, let’s be honest. <Laugh>.
Joanna Doven (15:39):
I’m slowing down, I’m slow, I’m slowing down. Hey, I’m, I’m actually older than you think, but I’m not- It’s my, my Nana used to say to me, she, I never knew her age. And she said, “It’s for me to know and you to find out.” And she wouldn’t tell anyone her age, her own kids forgot her age. So nobody knew how old she was until, until unfortunately she passed away. So anyways, hey, I drink a lot of water drink, a lot of water. So you were the press secretary to the governor of New York, George Pataki.
Michael Marr (16:10):
Joanna Doven (16:11):
And you worked with him before, during and after 9/11. I can’t even imagine that, you know, having that experience and you know, what we’re seeing in the, in the nation right now with cities, there’s a lot of stuff happening with cities because of COVID-19. I, I read everything from the Wall Street Journal, sorry, I don’t have a lot of time for other news. But I read in the Wall Street Journal recently, I think last week the, the larger the city, essentially the less people are coming back into the office. Mid-Sized cities like Pittsburgh kind of, you know, like Austin, Austin’s, you know, teetering, large/mid you’re seeing more people go back. But places like New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco, you know, Dallas, people are just saying, “Hey, I’m not doing that commute time.” So you had, you had, you were part of a team that helped to rebuild New York city after 9/11. 40% of New York was zoned- re-zoned post 9/11 in the Bloomberg administration to really build back lower Manhattan. There was a bullish environment of, “We’re going to rebuild, we’re going to rebuild.” Talk to us about that experience.
Michael Marr (17:39):
Well, you know, it’s funny that you set it up that way. I, I will tell you, actually, I, I need to sort of just, you know refine something you said in the introduction there, believe it or not, I was not there for the, for the week and a half or so after 9/11. My wife and I were on our way to our honeymoon, the morning of 9/11. We’d gotten married the weekend before. And we had checked out of a Connecticut hotel. We were going to a New York airport and when all hell broke loose I actually said to her, “This might not be over and I don’t wanna drive over the George Washington Bridge.”
Joanna Doven (18:12):
Michael Marr (18:12):
We turned around, checked ourselves back into the Connecticut hotel. And then I, well, telephones were still working, called in and said, “D”o I need to come back?
Michael Marr (18:19):
And they said, “No you know, do what you can to have honeymoon, because we’re gonna need recharged batteries when you do get back.”
Joanna Doven (18:27):
Michael Marr (18:27):
So when I came back it had already been determined that I was gonna start within the new role within the governor’s administration doing leading the communications for the Economic Development Department, which is a big job within any state, you know, administration. But it became a much bigger job in the wake of 9/11. So yeah, the 18 months or, or thereabouts after 9/11 I was there in a key role to help you know, lead the communications crisis communications really related to to the rebuilding of, of lower Manhattan and New York’s economy in the wake of 9/11. What I will tell you is that because of the way 9/11 happened and the way it impacted the, the country and New York and, and, and D.C. And, and, and Pennsylvania places that were directly impacted.
Michael Marr (19:19):
And I’ll mention Boston too, because I think two of the planes took off from there.
Joanna Doven (19:24):
Michael Marr (19:24):
Um you know, large companies really wanted to show that they were going to reinvest in New York. And so I wrote a lot of the press releases related to that that might have a quote from not just the governor, but the chairman of American Express among other, you know, similar financial services related companies that had positions in lower Manhattan. I will tell you that prior to 9/11, I really felt like because of the migration of the economy to more online that we might see at diaspora out of New York of those financial conser services companies, because of really cost of living. And you know, you can do the same job that you did in, in New York City which is a tremendously expensive place to live in Des Moines, Iowa, where the cost of living is great or Pittsburgh, where the cost of living is a heck of a lot, you know, less than New York. So I think that may have happened a little earlier than, than, than it’s now happening. But ironically in my mind it was for stalled by 9/11, whereas with COVID-19, which I guess is the next big, you know, sort of,disaster to befall the country and the world. Unow that may be speeding it up.
Joanna Doven (20:48):
That is an incredible insight. I never thought of it that way. You think of, because to your point, New York, a third, a third of the real estate transactions in the United States. Well, I don’t know if this is still true, it was true before COVID occurred in New York. Like the real estate market happens there and sets precedent, you know? So with New York, not really coming back from a commercial real estate standpoint, what is, what does that really mean for our cities? We’re sitting in Pittsburgh you know, things are turning into residential now. I don’t know how that’s really gonna work out. There is a lot of space. How many people do we really have from a growth and density standpoint to that will want to, to come downtown? The whole point of coming to a downtown, largely, is to be close to where you work.
Michael Marr (21:47):
Joanna Doven (21:48):
You know? What was it like- So how, I mean this, this is maybe a question that’s gonna be more spontaneous of an answer, but how, how, how did New York, how did 9/11 change change you as somebody who had, had to work in it, in a way?
Michael Marr (22:08):
Yeah, it was it was, I guess, a conflicted situation because I felt gratified to to be working in such, you know, a, a meaningful place and a meaningful time. But at the same time there were days that it was difficult. So I can tell you on the four month anniversary I went down to Ground Zero with the, the leader of the State Economic Development Corporation.
Joanna Doven (22:34):
Michael Marr (22:35):
His name’s Charles Gargano and he was an old friend and, and supporter of Governor Pataki. And while we were there, they found you know, a number of deceased and that was, you know, difficult. We saw the bodybags, et cetera, et cetera. Just as you think, you’re maybe getting back to normal psychologically after 9/11, you see something like that and you realize this is far from over.
Joanna Doven (23:01):
Right. Right. Wow. I mean, it’s just, it’s funny. I’m taking the kids to New York this weekend. My niece, really, my niece is flying in town. She’s never, she’s never been to New York. She’s 13, it’s due time to take her there. So we’re gonna, we’re gonna do the 9/11 Memorial and I still have to get those tickets ahead of time and we’re gonna see Hamilton and we’re gonna, we’re gonna do all that. And it was, I have to admit, you know, just, just from, you know, I have friends in New York and you know, I read a decent amount of news. There’s, you know, the, the feeling like to, to say, “Hey, we’re going to New York city this weekend.” It doesn’t feel like it used to feel, you know, pre, pre-COVID where “We’re going to New York!” Just there’s, you know, I can’t help but feel that the vibe is different. You know, I was in New York. When did we go? We went last year, took the kids last year and it was, it felt okay. I mean the, but it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be a, there’s gonna be a reordering of cities. Do you agree?
Michael Marr (24:08):
I do. I do. And I think it, it will be it will definitely be a trend, but the reordering will be unique to each city, I think.
Joanna Doven (24:16):
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So let’s talk, let’s go back to your experience handling major crises. For you, what was your toughest crisis?
Michael Marr (24:35):
Joanna Doven (24:36):
One, you can give me one of them. You don’t have to give me your, your toughest.
Michael Marr (24:41):
You know, I think it would be 9/11 and we’ve already talked about that. So maybe I’ll give you the second toughest one and I would say it was, it was COVID-19. So it was, it was not a, it was not a fun day March 18th, 2020 when you know, Shell, and I agree with the decision to, to, to shut down the plant and basically send home 8,000 workers, but it was, it’s not easy to be sort of the, the, the voice of that. And, and to communicate to the public that we’re gonna have to send 8,000 people who were making a very good living home and that, you know, the economic uncertainty that they were were gonna face. This was before the government had an opportunity to step in and do anything about it. COVID was just sort of, you know, unveiling itself as aggressively as it was and having the kind of impact on society at the time. So that wasn’t easy. That was a, that was a very sad and difficult day for me.
Joanna Doven (25:32):
Michael Marr (25:33):
Dnd, and, you know, difficult weeks followed.
Joanna Doven (25:37):
It feels- it all feels like a blur for me. I mean, I, I can’t, I guess I never thought of that as being a large crisis, but I, you know, I run a small, very small company, so we all just stayed working from home. You know, the crisis that we had was figuring out how we were gonna do that whilst managing children because childcare was done.
Michael Marr (25:58):
Joanna Doven (25:59):
And grandparents, they were too afraid and it wasn’t, it didn’t feel like, you know, so, so that was a different kind of a crisis. But to your point, how many workers did you have to say, “You’re not coming in”?
Michael Marr (26:12):
It was, it was roughly 8,000. And then it,
Joanna Doven (26:16):
New Speaker (26:16):
I meant, don’t hold me to the details here. I’m fuzzy, a little fuzzy on the timeline, but this is, you know, directionally true, all of it. So it was probably six, eight weeks or so before we, Shell had, you know, done the precautions, set up the the new transportation and new work protocols, et cetera. But then you just can’t bring 8,000 people back and basically train them to a new way of working. So it was done in weekly tranches of, I believe it was 250 to 300 people would come in for training and then they would be reabsorbed into the workforce. And, you know, that took a number of months to, to bring the workers back. And, and so you know, it did get better but it slowly got better. And the company, wasn’t able, to my recollection, to get all the way back up to the 8,000 number. But they got, you know, substantially close to it. I don’t, I don’t remember the details, but, but it was back to being what anyone would be consider a fully activeconstruction site, even if not, quite as, you know, in terms of employment or workforce, peak level.
Joanna Doven (27:28):
Right. The great workforce migration has occurred. I mean, people when they left, not everybody went back. I think 25% of people just said, “Wait, we’re gonna do a different thing.” That’s a one in four. I mean, that’s, that’s, I think it’s, I think it’s closer to 30. So you, but you weren’t still there when, I mean, were you there for, for example, how, how, how did, did Shell handle handle the vaccination policy? Did they have…?
Michael Marr (27:54):
So Shell set up honestly, I don’t remember a vaccination policy. I will say that they set up an onsite an onsite testing lab very early on, like when testing, and it was the PCR test, the one that was more reliable. And Shell had the benefit of using a local company. God, I hate that- because I’d love to plug them, but their name escapes me, but they’re based in Monroeville.
Joanna Doven (28:24):
Oh, MHS! MHS labs.
Michael Marr (28:26):
That might be it. It was, it was RJ Lee, I think RJ Lee, does that ring a bell?
Joanna Doven (28:32):
There can’t be that many in Monroeville. Maybe, maybe. Okay, maybe it was competitive.
Michael Marr (28:37):
So but, but in any event it was, it was a local company who helped us make that happen. And so, or Shell make that happen. And so there was a onsite place that you, it was like a drive through. So it was a warehouse that they converted into a drive through. I will tell you, it’s not a pleasant experience to get those PCR tests. Could they, they go way up the nostril and yeah, just, just when you think, you know, “Oh, well I’m done with that”, and no, you’re not, you’re getting the other one <laugh> so so yeah, that, that, that, that I can’t remember the vaccination policy but I can recall that that very early on there was testing protocols set up and then there was, you know, somebody tested positive, there were restrictions like you would expect.
Joanna Doven (29:21):
Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s been some, we, we dealt with not good number of clients during COVID that we, we started, and we don’t specialize in internal communications. We, you know, do mostly external, but we we’ve got into the fold because it was now we have an HR- potential HR crisis on our hands. How do we, you know, some of our clients worked in healthcare and they, they made the vaccinations mandatory and then they were worried. They lost a lot of, they had to keep things running and they sometimes couldn’t. Oh my God, that’s, that’s really tough. So I, I wanna, I wanna end with some rapid questions. And you, of course I did not send them to you because I like to do spur of the moment. Okay. Question one: What is your Zodiac sign?
Michael Marr (30:09):
Joanna Doven (30:10):
Scorpio. Ooh. Okay. So you’re fierce. Don’t mess with you. All right. You’re in the right job. <Laugh> question two: Tell us your news routine.
Michael Marr (30:23):
My news routine.
Joanna Doven (30:24):
New Speaker (30:24):
Uh well, it’s, it’s changed over the years. It’s it’s, you know, I, I would, I’m old enough to have gotten all four New York City daily papers and the Wall Street Journal to delivered to my door every morning. But I, I do an internet scan every morning and I read the wall street journal. And then I, I listen to a handful of, of different podcasts. I try to get a balance both on, on the, internet and on and on the podcast between right and left.
Joanna Doven (30:54):
Do you have like a couple of podcasts that you really like, do you wanna share? Because I’m always, I’m always up to check out some new ones.
Michael Marr (31:02):
I like on the left, I like “Useful Idiots,” which, which features Matt Taibbi, although he’s on break now. So Aaron Maté is, is filling in and Katie Halper. And then I guess most people would say he’s on the right, although he would beg the differ, but I like Scott Adams.
Joanna Doven (31:18):
Okay. All right, Scott Adams.
Michael Marr (31:20):
A good work guy.
Joanna Doven (31:21):
Yeah. Yeah. Those I’ve not listened to “Useful Idiots.” I’m gonna have to check that out.
Michael Marr (31:26):
I think you’ll like it!
Joanna Doven (31:27):
Michael Marr (31:28):
And Adams is daily and I, I don’t listen to it every day. “Useful Idiots” is weekly.
Joanna Doven (31:34):
Okay. Well, I mean, I’m, I, I, since I moved, I have like no commute time now. And so the question is, do I put it on background here? We’ll see last book you read?
Michael Marr (31:47):
Last book I read… Um I have not been all that good about reading of late. So I’ll have to think about this. Let me scan…
Michael Marr (31:59):
I’m gonna have to get back to you on that, honestly. Oh yeah. But you know what? I’m gonna make a plug. It’s a great book “Playing Through the Whistle”, which I read a long time ago, honestly, but it’s a interesting book. Written by S.L. Price.
Joanna Doven (32:11):
Michael Marr (32:11):
It tells it, it looks at history of Beaver County as a microcosm of American history. And it looks at it through the two prisms of high school football and the steel mill era. So I can’t give you the name of the last book I read, but the that’s good that I really enjoyed that I’ve read fairly recently was called “Playing Through the Whistle” by S.L. Price.
Joanna Doven (32:33):
Is it a recent book?
Michael Marr (32:36):
I’ll tell you. Yeah, I mean, it was written published in 2016 or copyrighted in 2016.
Joanna Doven (32:45):
Okay. What is your number one pet peeve?
Michael Marr (32:50):
Oh, pet peeveum… Technology, when it doesn’t work is advertised.
Joanna Doven (33:00):
Oh, we had an issue with that.
Michael Marr (33:01):
And then, and then my other pet peeve and I’ll give it a specific example: So like car manufacturers when everything’s techy and you’re like, “Oh, these key fobs are great and they are, but there’s gonna come a day where they don’t work. And there’s no like mechanical override to get into your car. Your car’s gonna be locked or unable to start.”
Joanna Doven (33:19):
That’s happened to me.
Michael Marr (33:20):
And, and I just think that’s so idiotic. I really do.
Joanna Doven (33:23):
Yeah. Yeah. We have to, we have to, we have to think about the user, not the robot. What else do I have? I think that’s, those are like my main, oh, I mean last concert, but it’s with COVID people are like, “Well…” Last concert, you have one?
Michael Marr (33:40):
<Laugh> it’s been a while. I, I, I saw Billy Joel and Elton John together in, in Houston a number of years ago. I can’t think of one more recent.
Joanna Doven (33:50):
I heard, I heard, I heard that- Billy Joel coming to Pittsburgh, I, I heard he is really good live.
Michael Marr (33:54):
Joanna Doven (33:55):
I’ve not seen him live. I mean, he doesn’t who doesn’t love Billy Joel? Um and then before I make you, I, I make you go away, which I don’t want to, but I know you have to work and, you know, we we’ve got other lives and people might be getting bored. I, I just, I just wanna end with your high-level perspective on, on the state of the media. And I, I will sort of preamble it with sort of some trends that- trends that I’m seeing and ask you for your feedback. Just like COVID-19 has impacted the workforce of really all companies, it has also impacted the workforce of, of media companies. I’m also seeing that and this at the same time COVID hit there, and there’s, there’s proof on this, it makes sense… More people’s eyes have been going to social media because we’re more reliant on the social media pastime.
Joanna Doven (35:03):
We’re more bored. Some of us at least. So we’re on social media more, there’s more time scrolling. And in general, I think people think… People, all people, think more now about balance than they have before. They just wanna chill. They just want their life to be easy. And what I’ve seen, especially with local media reporters is, is that, you know, they’re gonna report path of least resistance even more so now and avoid the nuance diving into the nuance because they don’t want hate mail, hate posts. They want it, they sort of wanna keep it cool. All that being said, I’m seeing reporting- really bad reporting out there. And I will… That’s my preamble. I want your take.
Michael Marr (36:01):
So you mentioned something earlier about Twitter being the “echo chamber”, and I think that’s absolutely correct, because it- it’s, as you said, the media uses it much more than the public uses it. What I will say is the echo, chamber’s nothing new. It was, it totally predates social media. The difference is now regular people can get can get a view into the echo chamber and sort of, you know, let their feedback be heard. And the media doesn’t like it, but they’re, they’re addicted to Twitter. I mean, they really are like addicts. They can’t get away from it. And, and some of that I think is personality-driven, some of it’s business model-driven, some of it’s a breakdown of, of, of media standards. It used to be get it right, don’t worry about getting it first. I mean, that’s a joke in today’s world.
Michael Marr (36:52):
So those are my thoughts. I do agree with you in terms of local media versus national media. I think the, the, you know, questionable behaviors began first in the national media, and I used to often defend, well, you have to differentiate between your frustration with the national media versus the local media… I agree with you that it’s, it’s trended more in the national media direction. I do think there’s still some very good local reporters out there that work hard to get it right. But, but I I’m, I’m a little concerned what the, the trends that I’ve seen and frankly, probably predated COVID, but COVID may have exacerbated it, as you said. Because people do really want balance. And, and they’re not, they’re not really willing to look for the nuance.
Joanna Doven (37:43):
Right. You know, the great, well, there’s, there’s so much here, but I mean, I, I worked on a, I consulted mostly as a volunteer for a congressional race in our district, which was a really big race. And I knew the candidate and he raised a lot of money. Millions of dollars. Steve Irwin was his name, I’m not sure he followed the race.
Michael Marr (38:05):
Yeah, I did, yep.
Joanna Doven (38:05):
And he lost by such a small margin, a thousand votes?
Michael Marr (38:09):
Joanna Doven (38:10):
To Summer Lee and, you know, a black woman you know, social activist, sort of AOC-type just to be frank. You know, Steve Irwin on the other hand, very progressive Democrat white man. Because he was a white man. I’m just, I’m just telling you what I saw in our local media… His coverage, if they, if, if the same exact thing was announced by both of them, she got 10x more coverage than he did. And I, at first I thought, “No, maybe this is like, you know, it was a bad week or duh, duh, duh. And you know, the, the campaign’s not putting it out, right. They’re not, they’re not, you know, they’re not working the reporters enough. They’re not da da da.” So I got involved personally because I’m like, well, I can surely help and fix this.
Joanna Doven (39:05):
Absolutely there was a bias. I saw it firsthand. And I, you know, I’m the last one to call out editors of local newspapers. They, in many ways feed my business, but I said, “Enough’s enough.” You know, people like us and, you know, I work for myself so I can do that more, but we have to sort of call it like it is sometimes and get into the game, because nothing’s gonna change then. But anyways, I’m going on my soapbox now you know, I, I think that the importance of strong editors in newsrooms is, is… Cannot be overstated. There has to be checks and balances.
Michael Marr (39:51):
Well, I’ll offer two reflections on that. One is that, that, that to me, in any large organization, it’s always a challenge between getting the right person that will actually provide oversight into a position of oversight authority versus someone who was put there because he or she plays the, what I’ll call “corporate game” better. And, and, and so that may be part of what’s happening here. The other thing I’ll reflect upon, I’ll go back to the founding years and decades of our nation. The press was very different, I guess, perhaps on paper. But in a way, it was more refreshingly, honest. You know, you, you had a paper that was either took one side or took the other. There was no- and everybody knew, well, this is, this is, you know-
Joanna Doven (40:45):
Michael Marr (40:47):
Side A and this is side B. There was no pretense about journalistic objectivity. And I do think there, there, there were good reporters over the decades past that practiced journalistic objectivity as best he or she could. Nobody’s perfect, they’re not gonna get it right. You know, they’re not gonna be 50-50, but-
Joanna Doven (41:09):
Michael Marr (41:09):
If they’re 55-45, that’s pretty darn good. If, even if they’re 60, 40, that’s pretty darn good. We have nothing close to that today with the media at large. Maybe Individual reporters, but we just don’t, you’re either one side or the other, and it’s just time for everybody to say which side they’re on in my viewpoint.
Joanna Doven (41:26):
<Laugh> I think that is that’s great. That’s that is such a <laugh> let’s be authentic, right? Let’s just be authentic. Well, oh my gosh. Hey, I think I’m going to lead with that. And when I, when I lead into this podcast, I’m gonna say, Michael says, “Pick your side and just lean into it.” Oh, man. Well, so nice having you on as a guest. I really appreciate your time. I feel like we could go more into the slate of chemical plant crises and environmental crises, but I don’t know, it’s more, it’s more fun to talk about politics, isn’t it?
Michael Marr (42:05):
<Laugh> It is.
Joanna Doven (42:07):
You know, we’re, we’re facing in Pittsburgh right now of slate of “rezoning opportunities” is what I’ll call it in Oakland, which is our, our Mecca, you know, and I just read a book that I’m going to plug. Oh my gosh. If I can remember the name of it, the “New Kings of New York”. It’s published by the Real Deal, which is the real estate publication in New York. Forget the name of the author offhand, but it’s about the remaking of the New York City skyline in the past 30 years. And it goes, so it goes through the-
Michael Marr (42:38):
New Speaker (42:39):
It goes through 9/11. I’ll send this book to you. It’s-
Michael Marr (42:42):
It’s called “The Real Deal”?
Joanna Doven (42:44):
The Real Deal is, they published it.
Michael Marr (42:46):
Joanna Doven (42:47):
The book is called “The New Kings of New York.”
Michael Marr (42:49):
Joanna Doven (42:50):
But as I’m going through these, these sort of some clients that are, I’m helping to- with zoning in the city. Um I work with the largest developer in Pittsburgh, Walnut Capital: Bakery Square, you know, where Google is and everything. That’s where I am right now, actually. And Oakland hasn’t progressed as a residential area because of zoning. I can’t- 40% of New York city was, was rezoned post 9/11. 40%.
Michael Marr (43:21):
Of Manhattan, or the whole city?
Joanna Doven (43:23):
Michael Marr (43:24):
Manhattan. Yeah. That’s but that’s still, that’s incredible.
Joanna Doven (43:27):
And, and, and, but zoning as a zoning, as a tool to, to grow the city and like also create more affordable housing, because now you have density. I’m, now I’m rambling. But all that is to say there’s, there’s points in that book about what we’re facing now in 2022, which is, you know, people who are saying, “You’re gonna price me out, don’t price me out.” Right? And, and you, so these, these problems continue in cities like the challenges they continue, but what’s unique… And what should be unique is in the solutions that elected officials and politicians and that we come up with. But reporters have a role to play. And how reporters are, who they’re covering, you know, is it Angry Sally that’s the old, old “NIMBY” constantly and is gonna never want something. Is she getting a quote in every story? You know? And if she is, then if I’m just an educated reader and I’m… “People Don’t like this, oh, nobody wants this. We, we can’t. We have to watch Sally.” So anyways, moving on, we need leadership everywhere. Michael, you gonna run for office one day?
Michael Marr (44:54):
Heck no. <Laugh> No. Nope, Nope. I’m happy just to help people you know from a half a step to a step back, but I have no, no interest in, in being the one at the podium unless it’s on behalf of somebody else.
Joanna Doven (45:12):
I was once told that it’s wiser to be behind the scenes pulling the strings than to be in front of the scenes taking the punches.
Michael Marr (45:19):
Well, I won’t claim to be wise. I’ll just claim to be better suited for that.
Joanna Doven (45:22):
<Laugh> awesome. Thanks, Michael. Have a great rest of your day and I’m sure we’ll, I’m sure we’ll be talking soon.
Michael Marr (45:29):
Okay. Thank you Joanna.
Joanna Doven (45:31):
Speaker 3 (45:31):
- Marr’s experience leading internal and external crisis communication efforts for facility shutdowns in working with Shell and BP
- How the plastic economy is transitioning from ‘waste plastic’ to full-circle renewables
- Marr’s experience helping lead New York City’s comeback post 9/11
- Marr’s top book and podcast suggestions
On Crisis: Episode 10
Joanna Doven is joined by renowned author and Wall Street Journal reporter Kris Maher to hear about his new book on a West Virginia water crisis and to learn about his mindset when reporting on crises.
On Crisis – Episode 9
Joanna Doven talks with Jeff Hahn, the Owner and Principal of Hahn Public, to talk his new book, why universities tend to be so bad at crisis communications, and his 5 step method to crisis response.
On Crisis: Episode 8
Reporter Sean Hamill talks about major COVID-19 outbreaks in senior care facilities and how many of them have mishandled the situation, as well as the future of local newspapers, and the key role Facebook and Google can play in their comeback.
On Crisis: Episode 7
Billie Jo Weyant, the Executive Director of a small nonprofit, discusses the soaring need for abuse and sexual assault victim services during COVID-19, despite limited resources and diminishing public funding.
ON CRISIS: EPISODE 6
Pittsburgh Public Information Officer Chris Togneri talks about how he transformed his office’s social media channels into a newsroom, social media’s potential to allow people to make their own news, and more.
ON CRISIS: EPISODE 5
Aurora’s leadership talks about the company’s work with self-driving vehicles, the long-term communications mindset, and why aggressive communications on the company’s “safety first” commitment is paramount.
ON CRISIS: EPISODE 4
Allison Bentley talks about applying her lessons-learned at an international retail company to help differentiate a new startup in an evolving industry from its many competitors.
ON CRISIS: EPISODE 3
Top legal mind who represents dozens of school districts, Ira Weiss, discusses the importance of having a robust school district communications plan, especially right now.
ON CRISIS: EPISODE 2
Senior Managing Director of a large independent advisory firm, Mike Shebak, shares how they pivoted daily client communications during the COVID-19 crisis.
ON CRISIS: EPISODE 1
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rich Lord talks about the changing media landscape and what that means for managing news media during crises.
THE “ON CRISIS” PODCAST
New episodes airing regularly. Check back soon!