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Tie One On

bow-ties-bella-graceI admit it. I have taken my share of grief over the years for wearing a bow tie. My affection – or affliction – has prompted snickers, crude jokes and feeble attempts at one-liners.

I’ve been asked, just for example:

“Do you tie those yourself?” No, I want to say, my butler does it for me.

“Can I touch it?” Seriously? If you look like Grace Kelly, I would say, knock yourself out.

“Are they hard to tie?” Yes, very, I say. Rather like those sneakers you’re wearing.

Whenever I get that look, the, oh, he’s wearing a bow tie look, I just remember what a very smart and sartorially advanced gentleman once told me: “It takes a confident man to wear a bow tie.” It doesn’t hurt that women seem to notice and frequently compliment a well-chosen bow tie.

Men’s Journal recently did a takeout on “The Art of Wearing a Bow Tie.” After suggesting, incorrectly I believe, that wearing a bow tie is “always a strange choice,” the article when on to say something I do agree with: “There is no way – unless you happen to currently live in a fraternity house at a large southern university – to subtly wear a bow tie. Your neckwear will say something so you want to make sure it’s on message.”

Like the man said – confident men wear bow ties and, in my experience, the same men make a fashion and personal statement. No president since Franklin Roosevelt has routinely worn a bow tie. He also used a cigarette holder and wore those little glasses – Pince-nez – that fasten to the bridge of your nose. The bow tie was the least of FDR’s fashion statements. Harry Truman, a sharp dresser, tied one on from time-to-time, but no one since has dared except when the commander-in-chief breaks out a tuxedo for something like the increasingly silly White House Correspondent’s Dinner.

Speaking of the tux, I am unalterably opposed to the trend of men wearing long ties with a tuxedo. Call me old-school, another label often attached to the bow tie wearer, but the classic, clean and elegant look of black tie demands a bow. And, yes, you must learn how to tie it yourself. Those store bought, already tied models look like they were stamped out a press. Part of the style of wearing a bow tie is tying the darn thing.

I got my first bow tie when I was, I think, 14 years old. I bought it myself and was given a little booklet – I still have it somewhere – on how to tie the bow. I went home and stood in front of a mirror for what seemed like hours trying to master the right combination of crossovers, tucks and pulls required to cinch the knot just so. My arms began to ache from being held in an unnatural position, but I eventually mastered the art. I don’t need a mirror any more, but it helps. But, as I said, if you are going to make the statement make it all the way – tie it yourself.

Winston Churchill wore, just about every day, a navy blue polka dot bow tie. You think he had a sense of style? Humphrey Bogart wore them. Lincoln and Branch Rickey, the baseball innovator and the man who signed Jackie Robinson, wore bow ties. George Will, the cranky, pedantic columnist frequently wears one, and I forgive most of his most ill-considered rants because he does. Bow ties and the fact George Will appreciate baseball makes up for a lot of misguided political opinions. The late, great senators Pat Moynihan of New York and Paul Simon of Illinois wore bow ties. Can you see Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell in one? I rest my case.

There is a school of thought that bow ties only work with sport coats or a blazer. I’ll grant you that such pairing are generally safe bets, but former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a great judge and a habitual bow tie wearer, pairs his ties with a dark suit and he looks just like he is – distinguished and classy. Whatever you do, don’t wear a bow tie with one of those old fashioned jackets with the elbow patches or, even worse, a corduroy jacket. It is just fine to appear scholarly or academic, but you can cross a line that you don’t want to cross pretty easily.

Some fool has said you can’t trust a man who wears a bow tie. Ridiculous. Or, its been suggested that when you are next called for jury duty, wear a bow tie. No one wearing a bow tie ever gets placed on a jury they say. Don’t believe it. I did it once and was named the foreman.

In a day when jeans and a tee shirt paired with flip flops can constitute high fashion, I subscribe to a higher and better standard. I’ve never worn a bow tie to a baseball game, but look at a photo of a game prior to 1960 and you’ll see gents in the stands dress for success. I do agree with the contention that a bow tie makes a statement. It says something about style, tradition and individuality. Think Fred Astaire and James Bond, shaken not stirred and always black tie. Think Chaplin and FDR. Teddy Roosevelt, too. Bow ties put you in good and not too crowded company.

Learn to tie one. They’re sold in many colors and shapes. Ladies seem to like them. See if you’re man enough.


P.R. vs. Marketing

SydneyA Guest Blog – P.R. and Marketing

My Gallatin Public Affairs colleague Sydney Sallabanks has a guest post today. She offers thoughts on public relations and marketing – flips sides of the same coin really – and stresses that effective advocacy in a cluttered marketplace still requires the basics: clarity and honesty.


“‘Public Relations vs. Marketing’? Isn’t that a bit like ‘patriotism vs. love of country’?” questioned a friend of mine about the presentation that David Cook and I gave last week at the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Yes — that’s the point that Cook, creative director of Boise agency Stoltz Marketing Group, and I hope we made to the audience of about 30 small business owners, non-profit executives and entrepreneurs assembled for the workshop, aptly titled “Public Relations vs. Marketing.”

After working on a few projects with Cook, not only did I learn that his “awkward phase” spans from 1969 to the present, I also discovered that we share similar notions of our respective fields. Public relations and marketing are flip sides of the same coin — Advocacy. When well planned and implemented, they serve to reinforce one another. With some savvy, small businesses have the power to market their goods and services, control their exposure and customize it to mirror their corporate climate.

This may be accomplished with a happy, if not blissful marriage of marketing and public relations. The point is to send the right message to the right audience using the right mode of delivery. We help our clients tell their story and start the conversation.

A principal nuance, however, is that public relations can be harder to control than marketing, “You can never guarantee full control of what is being said about you or your company with PR, unlike marketing, including paid advertising,” said Cook.

While social media is often a valuable piece of the marketing and PR mix, starting with the customer experience is critical, according to Cook. “Isn’t Facebook scheduled to replace television next week?” he joked, advising the audience against abandoning traditional marketing and PR altogether in favor of social media tactics. “These new tools are not a replacement for traditional media; they are an addition to it.” Cook advises to strike a nerve and keep the message simple to cut through the clutter, whatever the delivery.

I advise a similar practice on the PR front. There is no substitute for clear and honest communication. Our firm specializes in developing campaigns for complex issues, often involving multi-member partnerships between the public and private sectors — which means clarity and candor is key.

And like all worthwhile things in life, relationships do matter. In my experience, they are the most rewarding part of the job.

As the Public Relations Society of America notes:

Public relations is much more than endorsements and what many of the media, bloggers and the public have defined as ‘spin.’ The practice of public relations has and will always be the art and science of building relationships, connecting people and measuring how these relationships with various publics lead to long-term value for on entity or organization (whether it’s in regard to government, investor, analyst, media, community or employee relations).”

Any worthwhile relationship requires time and attention, including the working relationship between public relations professional and the media. As newsrooms continue to shrink, journalists are being pushed harder. But there are ways to make life easier on both sides: Do your homework, be accessible and respect the deadline driven nature of a reporter’s world.

Think truth and action, avoid jargon and spin. The Onion recently profiled a fictional, laid-off PR exec and quoted him: “I wasn’t fired so much as my job was one of the positions phased out through the outsourcing of certain activities and the restructured insourcing of others.”

A good rule of thumb: If your campaign or marketing initiative can’t pass a simple “straight face test,” including a basic question -“is what I’m doing serving a broad public interest?” – then you might consider going back to the drawing board, or risk getting ink in The Onion.