Tag Archives: public relations

Considering The Optics

The President fired the Director of the FBI yesterday. Even though such a thing had only happened once before (when the FBI Director was accused of using funds for personal stuff), it is well within the rights of the President to do so. In fact, the head of the FBI, like US Attorneys and White House staff, serve at the pleasure of the President (which always brings to mind this scene from The West Wing in which the staff pledges loyalty to the President using exactly that phrase).

No, I’m not (finally) wading into politics, but there is a tremendous business point to be taken from yesterday’s action. The FBI is investigating if and how the President’s campaign was (is?) tied to Russia. Firing the man who is heading an investigation into your campaign is bad optics, especially when you do so on the day when subpoenas go out. It’s also bad optics to give as a reason something for which you praised that same person a few months earlier.

Bad optics is a phrase typically used in politics which describes when politicians fret about the public perception of a decision more than the substance of the decision itself. It has little to do with right and wrong and a lot to do with the perception of right or wrong. We’ve seen a few cases of this in business very recently:

  • United Airlines kicked doctor off a plane and he was beaten up when he refused to go. Were they within their rights to involuntarily bump a passenger? Yes. But the optics, both in front of other passengers and, since everyone has a camera, the rest of the world are horrible.
  • When public schools refuse to give a hot lunch to a child or give them a cheese sandwich instead of what the other kids have because the kid’s family can’t afford to pay, are they within their rights? Yes, but the optics…
  • When a business asks workers to train their (foreign) replacements, they’re helping their bottom line but killing their reputation because the optics are so bad.

One thing we all need to do as part of our decision-making process is to consider the optics. How will this appear, regardless of the right and wrong? It does little good to be in the right when you seem to be very wrong. You with me?

 

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A Gift From The PR Gods

I received an invitation a couple of weeks back that I thought I’d share with you all today. It’s a wonderful example of so many things gone wrong that I hardly know where to begin. Sorry if I sound delighted, but I’m always happy when fodder for the screed pops into my inbox.

It begins innocuously enough:

This Friday, Keith, we are doing a last minute gift guide mailing to the top 30 influencers who need products for their short lead holiday gift guides and long lead Valentine’s Day gift guides and we thought Consult Keith, might be a good fit.

Let’s stop there and think for a moment. Does anyone give blogs as gifts? I certainly don’t but maybe I’m behind the times. Had I already done what I’ve repeatedly threatened to do and turn these 2,000 or so posts into a book, I might have something tangible to send along. Still, I’m always up for increasing the readership of this thing so let’s keep reading, shall we?

Next, there is a list of 33 media outlets (yes, 33, not “the top 30”) of various sorts which reach widely divergent targets. Some skew very female, some quite male, some fairly old and some quite young. Now while I get that a gift guide might contain things the target would buy for a different demographic, it strikes me as odd that this is as untargeted as it is. No offer to segment the list either. But what do I get?

And what do I need to give you?

  • 30 pieces of product (with a press release attached to each)
  • A paragraph descriptor of your product
  • Photo of the product on a white background

Nothing like getting included in a group of indeterminate size, right? The invite doesn’t mention any limit on how many products will be placed on the desks of these influencers, and one can only imagine how the 30 pieces of your product will be divided across the 33 names on the recipient list. Of course, given what I know about building security in New York (where many of these outlets are located), there is a very good chance that the “direct delivery” won’t happen, especially since the product is to be shipped to Los Angeles. The cost is only $849. Oh – plus the product cost. And shipping the product to LA. So if you have an item that costs you $35, that’s $1,050 in product cost plus shipping for 30 items (let’s figure $10 each) plus $849. So for just under $2,200, you can be included in a bunch of stuff that gets given to someone at a media outlet for possible review and/or mention. Such a bargain…

I don’t mean to be a total cynic here. PR is important, especially at this peak shopping time of the year. But I back up to the very fact that I received this invitation to send along product in the first place. My product is this blog or maybe even my consulting services. Neither are a fit for this, obviously, but the note calls into question how carefully this PR firm will execute the program since they can’t even screen the recipients of this invitation and the target list is a scattershot approach to messaging. They can’t seem to count to 33 either, and if PR NewsWire is the extent of the marketing they’re doing, I’m underwhelmed. Those are  pretty big red flags. Then again, we’d never do anything as off-target as this, would we?

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No Place At The Table For Bad PR

I had planned to rant today about some smart marketing I came across the other day when a bit of really awful marketing slapped me in the face. I guess I’ll save the good stuff for after the holiday! Instead, let me present some terrible PR work to you. It’s almost a textbook example of what not to do in the modern age. I’m not going to name names because maybe the client has no clue what this person is doing (which is bad too!) in the client’s name. The names are unimportant; the bad PR work is what matters.

English: Olives in olive oil.

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first thing that catches one’s attention is the release’s headline:

Olive Oil Give Box Celebrated After Investigation

My first thought is what the heck is a “give box”? Something that solicits charitable donations? No, what it is in actuality is a typo. In the headline. He meant “gift”. That’s strike one.

Next comes the meaning of the headline. A gift box celebrated after an investigation? Not exactly. There has been an ongoing investigation of fraudulent labelling in the Italian olive oil world for quite a while. The report came out last week. It made no mention, however, of either gift boxes or the brand that is behind the release, which is a Greek olive oil. As an aside, every olive oil producing region has issues with fraudulent labelling, so I’m not sure that “celebrated” is the right term, since the fact that some Italian producers were doing some bad stuff doesn’t celebrate your Greek oil.  In fact, it sort of makes me wonder if I should wonder about this oil. There is a ton of hyperbole in the document too.  If the oil is “priceless”, why is there a price stated? Strike two.

The body of the story pitch/press release (I can’t tell which it is which is a bad sign right there) reads like a direct response ad. It describes the product along with selling points and has an affiliate link into an Amazon store for purchase.  It goes on to suggest “ideas for this story.”  What story?  Why do my readers (you folks!) care one iota about a premium Greek olive oil?  How does the knowledge of what’s in this release benefit you?  Strike three.

My inclination here is to rewrite this and show you how he could have turned it into something that might be of interest.  Instead, let’s just remember that what’s “news” to you must really be news to the reader (or blogger).  Please don’t ask me, or any other outlet, to serve as your vehicle for unpaid advertising.  Please don’t ask me to waste my readers’ time.  And for goodness’ sake, proofread the release!

There is a valuable role for good PR.  Bad PR such as this has no place. You with me?

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All FIFA-ed Up

One of my favorite movies is Casablanca. It came to mind last week as the FIFA scandal unfolded. Soccer fan or not, you’re probably aware of the indictments issued (with more to come) against high-ranking administrators and marketing executives. If you’re not the details are here.

Casablanca? Yes:

That was, in essence, the response by Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, who claims to have had no clue such corruption was going on.  I’ll wait while you stop laughing, but this really is no laughing matter.  We are watching a major sports organization implode and there are billions of dollars involved.  It is a classic PR crisis, and one thing you can’t do in this situation is to go dark and allow others to dictate the conversation.  That is, however, exactly what the brain trust at FIFA is doing:

A quick look into Socialbakers Analytics tells us that that’s not what was going through the minds of FIFA’s PR team: out of the almost 8000 questions posed to them on Twitter in just under last month, they’ve responded to zero.

That’s from the Social Bakers blog.  Into that vacuum you have one of the indicted executives citing a piece in The Onion as supporting his innocence and several of FIFA’s corporate sponsors have expressed dismay while threatening to pull their financial support.  After all, brands sponsor sports in part so they can transfer the goodwill that fans feel for the sport to the brand’s equity.  When that goodwill vanishes, the brand is damaged as well.

What should they be doing?  I’m not a PR expert but I know silence is not an option.  The few messages they’ve put out there have been met with ridicule and the reelection of the man at the head of the organization, who claims he can clean it up, is widely seen as a negative.

“You can’t just ask everybody to behave ethically just like that in the world in which we live,” Blatter said in his opening remarks to the FIFA congress. “We cannot constantly supervise everybody that is in football,” he added. “That is impossible.”

Really?  Most big companies with which I’ve worked do exactly that, and the stench of corruption has been around the beautiful game for as long as I’ve worked in sports.  Staying silent in a crisis is bad.  Making statements that deny culpability (FIFA is trying to argue that all the problems are with other soccer organizations, not FIFA) is worse.  As with Louis in Casablanca, what’s been going on is very obvious and as the old line goes, I’m choosing to believe my lying eyes over FIFA.  You?

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The Lady Does Protest Too Much

You might have read Hamlet. Perhaps unwillingly in high school English, perhaps for pleasure since it’s one of the greatest dramatic works in the English language. At one point Gertrude says “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Tiger Woods Photo by Paddy Briggs

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That line has been used as a figure of speech ever since (and since 1602 means for a long time) to mean that a person’s overly frequent or vehement attempts to convince others of something have ironically helped to convince others that the opposite is true, by making the person look insincere and defensive. Thank you, Wikipedia!

I thought about that quote the other day as Tiger Woods responded to a satirical piece written by the great Dan Jenkins. Jenkins wrote an “interview” with Tiger which was clearly labeled as made up in which Tiger was made to look cheap, dumb, and nasty. What happened next is instructive for all of us and for any business.

The “interview” ran in the print-only edition of a golf magazine.  Had Tiger left it alone, it would have been read by hard-core golfers and died.  Instead, Tiger took it upon himself to issue a 600 word rebuttal on ThePlayersTribune.com which was picked up immediately by the media.  The interest in the controversy grew quickly, and the golf magazine then posted the original article on its website where anyone could read it.  The mostly ignored problem became a front and center issue.  Which is the point.

Maybe you’ve heard it called “The Streisand Effect.”  This is when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely.  It’s instructive.  By protesting too much we fan the flames of the problem.  Should every negative comment be ignored?  Of course not.  But had Tiger responded publicly (and I’m not sure he should have in this case) with an appreciative chuckle and a wink of the eye (“I’ll have to work harder and adjust my thinking to live up to the bad guy image you made up”), this all would have gone away.  Better would have been a phone call to Jenkins and a quiet meeting someplace to straighten it all out.

There are dozens of examples of companies and individuals choosing the wrong course and triggering The Streisand Effect.  While our emotional response to something false or misleading might be to take that course, the smarter response is to choose another.  What’s yours?

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How NOT To Do Social Media

 

Sometimes you see something that reminds you to start a folder called “stupid corporate tricks.”

Chick-Fil-A

(Photo credit: Link576)

What I’m writing about today would be top of that heap.  In fact, it sets a new kind of standard for stupid behavior but let’s see what you think.

Gizmodo published a piece yesterday about Chick-Fil-A and their social efforts.  As you might know, that company is engaged in a controversy with the gay community over same-sex marriage.  Now since we don’t do politics here, let’s put aside the cause of the controversy and just acknowledge that there is one.  This issue caused another company – The Jim Henson Company – to announce that it would no longer allow Chick-Fil-A to distribute miniature muppets in its children’s meals.  Again, let’s not argue right,wrong, good, or bad – those are the facts.  As a preemptive move, Chick-Fil-A announced it was ceasing to distribute the toys because of a safety issue – kids were getting their fingers stuck in the puppets.  With me so far?

Now comes the business part.  On Chick-Fil-A’s Facebook page, there were quite a few comments.  One commenter accused the company of making up a lie about the cause and asked them to admit they were dumped because they were “bigots.”  I suppose we could have a long chat here about how to handle negative comments in social media and that would be a valuable discussion.  However, I bet we would all agree that one way we would never endorse is to have a PR staffer create a fake Facebook account in the personality of a teenaged girl and respond with corporate talking points through that mechanism.  Want to guess what Chick-Fil-A did?

The company denied having done it.  However, the account was created hours before it began posting and the profile picture is from a stock photo house – a fair amount of circumstantial evidence that this is not a real person.  Regardless, it’s a lesson on how NOT to handle a problem is social media.  Yes, we need to respond quickly but not by hiding or lying about who is talking.  Transparency is one imperative; knowing that if you’re using social you no longer control the conversation is another.

I don’t suppose we’ll know for sure if this was a corporate flack or not.  We do know for sure that in addition to the original controversy there now is another.  Thoughts?

 

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The Social Hot Potato

An interesting read this morning from the folks at Genesys (with a hat tip to Media Post).

1 and a half russet potato with sprouts. Slice...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Genesys conducted a study that surveyed more than 798 senior executives worldwide about customer communication and found that the social and mobile channels are not yet aligned with customer service.  Shocking, I know.  Some key points:

  • Fifty eight percent of C-suite Execs see the CEO as responsible for the social media and mobile channels, but only 28 percent of middle managers agree. The disconnect between top-level and mid-ranking executives might be explained by the novelty factor of social media.
  • When it comes to driving the customer conversation, the marketing department, not customer service or the C-suite, is driving the response to new channels with 44 percent of executives saying the marketing department has dominated the dialogue between company and customer.
  • The report also found that 43 percent of companies only began using social media in the last year and only 11 percent of businesses have been using social media to communicate with customers for three years or more.
  • Customer Service has not been a priority with new communications channels. Only 42 percent of organizations use call centers to communicate with customers and just 6 percent see customer support/service as the main purpose of new communication channels.

A few thoughts.  In larger, more mature companies, the CEO is generally someone my age – well over 50.  One might wonder how familiar your stereotypical CEO is with social channels and what sort of daily (much less hourly) use they make of them.  No wonder the middle managers are a little skeptical.  The implied turf war between marketing, PR, and customer service over who is in charge is no surprise.  Nor is it a shock that companies that appoint a single person, instead of a team, to manage all communications were more successful. Thirty-three percent of executives within companies that have appointed a team to manage social media/mobile channels felt that there was a disconnect between teams that touch these channels. In organizations that had appointed a single individual to manage new channels, just 9 percent perceived the same disconnect.

Social media as a communications channel is a huge disruptor.  Those sorts of hot potatoes aren’t welcomed into most corporate environments.  As the study show, the social round peg isn’t fitting into any of the existing square holes.  The companies that are doing well are the ones that have drilled a round place.

Thoughts?

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