Archive for August, 2010

Crisis Management 101 Gone Bad

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

The New York Times ran an interesting piece this past weekend (“In Case of Emergency: What Not to Do”) on what can be learned by crisis management mistakes made by such industry-leading companies as BP, Toyota and Goldman Sachs.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past several years about how crisis management has changed, particularly with social networks providing a much bigger stage for issues to catch instant fire. We saw this play out most recently with JetBlue, a topic my colleague Rob Goodman discussed earlier this week.

While the need for greater speed, broader engagement strategies and approach to the tone of messaging are a clear change (and in some cases such as JetBlue, what business decisions should be made), it struck me that many of the fundamentals of crisis management have and will always remain the same. And yet, companies still seem to fail at these basics:

1)      Put those who are impacted first. Having managed several crises in my career, I’ve seen the initial defensiveness and temptation to shift blame set right out of the gate.  All the while those who have been or could be impacted get lost. First things first- make sure you’ve expressed sincere concern, start taking immediate action and let the public know what they need to do. Unfolding how things happened and where fingers should be pointed can wait.

2)      Never blame the customer. The NYT piece provides some great examples of how this has backfired, particularly when Audi blamed customers for acceleration issues that led to hundreds of crashes in the 1980s. Even if true, better to explain how to avoid a crash than blatantly say it’s the customers fault.

3)      Know your full situation before making bold claims. In the case of Toyota, they clearly didn’t have a clear perspective on what was causing their acceleration issues, but still moved forward with offering explanations. The problem: turns out their explanations weren’t entirely true, and they were further exposed when the full story was revealed. Better to say you are still evaluating the issue than offer up or provide the wrong answer.

4)      Never lie. This one goes without explanation. One hundred percent guaranteed you’ll get caught. It amazes me that companies (and people) still think they’ll get away with it. Bill Clinton? Steroid users in baseball? Just a few examples.

5)      Have a crisis plan in place. For many companies, crisis is inevitable. Having at least the basics in place for when that time hits is imperative, and yet, so many are left in a scramble because they were in a state of denial. This is a guaranteed recipe for a double crisis- the one at hand, and the one with PR teams, executives and lawyers wasting precious hours trying to figure out what to do.

It amazes me that such established and sophisticated brands outlined in this article missed the boat on these fundamentals which have remained true for eons. I can see not understanding how to implement social media into the strategy, but making claims before you know the full truth? Ouch.

What other companies do you think botched the basics? Which companies do you think have handled a crisis situation wisely?

If You Can’t Laugh At Yourself, Who Can You Laugh At?

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

By now we’ve all heard about the JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater, who apparently had had enough of the rude passengers and bailed out on his plane by deploying the emergency slide on the runway to walk away from his job. Not to be caught empty-handed he even had the nerve to take a few beers with him. Kind of reminds me of the scene from the movie Network where actor Peter Finch opens up his office window and shouts “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Steven appears to be the classic anti-hero in this tale and his legend seems to have grown day-by-day. There’s even a Facebook page devoted to this story and it reportedly got over 20,000 Facebook fans in less than a week.

A quick check online came up with a wide variety of stories in such outlets as Forbes, Chief Marketer, TMZ, andABCnews.com. There are tons of other sites (business, general news, airlines, blogs, etc.) that have covered the news but what I find interesting is how JetBlue has handled the situation.

In today’s media-centric, 24×7 news cycle world, reputations and opinions can be severely tarnished if the wrong message gets out. For example BP made a number of mistakes with how they approached the fiasco of the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.

JetBlue, a relative newcomer on the corporate scene in the world of aviation, could have taken a hard-line approach by reprimanding or firing Steven. While the airline would have been completely justified I’m sure public opinion would somehow be swayed to provide support to him. My feeling is that almost any company would have taken this approach. However, as soon as I heard how JetBlue was approaching the issue, one company came to mind: Southwest Airlines.

Southwest has always been known as a company that approaches customer service, at least during the in-flight service, as light-hearted. Pilots sharing humorous flight plan information over the intercom, flight attendants who sing, etc. It sets a tone for fun and makes flying, which isn’t the easiest of tasks, more enjoyable.

Following suit is JetBlue, an airline known to take a unique approach to managing an airline and providing amenities for customers who seem to remain quite loyal. In fact JetBlue was the highest ranked airlines in the 13the Annual Loyalty Leaders poll. JetBlue’s blog entry on August 11 poked fun at the situation, went out of its way to praise its entire in-flight crew members, and generally diffused the situation. For a potentially huge crisis situation, JetBlue’s self-effacing approach appears to have paid off.

What about you? How have you dealt with crisis management issues? How did you go about protecting your company’s brand image?

Trust and Google’s Brand Rep: Is Net Neutrality a Tipping Point?

Friday, August 20th, 2010

The recent debate over net neutrality is a heated one (to say the least). Since Google and Verizon’s talks made the news a few weeks ago, the media has been peppered with headlines discussing the issue. Big questions at the heart of the debate include who should get priority on the Web, how this will impact innovation and small business, whether the government can police this effectively, if this is just a play for big business to benefit, and the overall implications for consumers.

Given the tremendous amount of ink already given to these questions, I’ll save my opinions for another day when the dust settles a bit more. Instead, let’s take a look at the impact to Google’s brand: will net neutrality be the tipping point for trust in Google, transforming them from the company with the “don’t be evil” motto into a “corporate behemoth”?

Based on discussions brewing on the Web, it appears trust could be on the line. Consumers are noting they are moving to new search engines, that the company has lost its connection with its start-up roots and that they are moving away from their entrepreneurial positions to ones that benefit them as a large business. Even comedian Jon Stewart has joined the discussion, documenting the variance in Google’s message from 2006 to present (in his unique way of course).

Jon Stewart on Net Neutrality

The change in their position alone could have huge implications for the company and Google will have to carefully navigate how they reconcile their former “free Internet for everyone” stance with what is a very complicated issue. Consumers could see this as creating a hierarchy for Internet access, with big business looking to line their pockets at their expense. This story isn’t new, and the headlines could increasingly take a turn for the worse from Google’s perspective (insert “evil empire”).

The imperatives for Google: show how net neutrality still aligns to their original position and be clear on the benefits to consumers and small business. If it doesn’t line up, it will be interesting to see how Google is discussed going forward.  One thing for certain, the Google brand is rapidly moving from warm fuzzy search company, to tech titan.

When it comes to ROI, why is social media different?

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

How many times have you heard or read that companies should just forge ahead with a social media program even though the return on investment is hard to quantify? I’m not going to point fingers, but it’s been repeated so often it’s become the mantra of so-called social media experts.

This is really bad advice.

Social media is no different than any other type of marketing activity. It takes time and resources to write blogs and record podcasts, build followers on Twitter or create decent videos for YouTube. If you’re going to suck up those resources they had better bring demonstrable value that advances critical business goals. Without that grounding, you’re just wasting your time.

Every solid PR or marketing plan I worked on over the last decade or so began with a SWOT analysis linked back to business objectives, like establish a foothold in market X with this demographic, or protect our flanks in this segment Y from low-cost competitors.  From there we worked out strategies and tactics – that could involve a social media component –  and thought through a set of metrics to determine if the programs were successful.

SWOT Chart

A major advantage with social media compared to traditional PR is the abundance of tracking tools. You can see the number of re-tweets or Facebook Like button clicks and then drill down to better understand the type of traction you’re getting. Ideally these efforts generate more website traffic which leads to more business.

Social media is ultimately a tool, another arrow in the marketing quiver. If you combine it with solid business and marketing practices, the ROI is sure to follow.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

I guess David Bowie had it right so many years ago. Change, so the saying goes, is inevitable in life. We change jobs, change clothes, and change hair styles. To me, though, it seems that I rarely hear about people who talk about how their profession has changed.

I’ve been in PR for over 20 years with almost all of that time focusing on the high tech industry. I remember the days of faxing information, waiting anxiously for the weekly hardcopy of InformationWeek to see if my client’s news had been covered, and watching the rise, fall, and rise again of Apple—I was at MacWorld ’97 when Steve Jobs returned. Needless to say, it’s been quite a ride but far from boring.

In fact, that’s one of the things I like most about working in the world of high tech PR. To a large extent technology dictates how we perform our jobs. The rise of social media in the past few years has had a  dramatic impact on how our industry functions. Mashable just published an interesting article about how technology, mostly social media, has changed many of the fundamental tools of our trade including press releases and the way we connect with members of the press and other influentials.

But what do these changes mean to your agency brand? Is your agency one to embrace change just to please a client or do you work in an environment that craves new ideas? I’ve had the good fortune to work both in-house on the corporate side and for a few agencies and I can honestly say that the places where technology and new ideas were adopted were the best places to be. Some people are resistant to change and sometimes waiting for the dust to settle is right move. But with it comes the risk getting marginalized and left behind.

The ability to learn, grow and develop is one of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning. What about you? What hooked you and keeps you in the PR world?

When Does Social Media Become Marketing?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

I remember a conversation I had with a colleague about 15 years ago when the Web was starting to become a mainstream part of our daily business world, especially in the high tech market. The person said that the Web was simply another distribution channel and she somewhat downplayed the importance that the Web would have in our daily lives. Boy was she wrong.

Fast forward to today and you have a much different picture. The Web is critical to our daily business lives, both in the B2B and B2C worlds. But it cannot be done in a vacuum. As analyst firm AMR said in a recent report, “Two thirds of B2B marketers believe that online must be complemented by traditional marketing activities.”

I’ve read articles and heard from multiple companies that “we need a social media plan.” The reality is this cannot be done as a standalone effort – it must be part of a larger marketing strategy. With experts like Forrester Research predicting a doubling in B2B interactive marketing spending by 2014, forward-thinking B2B and B2C companies need to continue to strengthen their online and social media talent with a combination of in-house and external resources. Sadly, BizReport says that 60 percent of B2B firms have no staff dedicated to social media compared with 54 percent of B2C players. Why is B2B lagging here?

My feeling is that we live in a results-oriented business community, not to mention a results-oriented society, which means we need numbers and validation. Gut instinct is fine but it’s hard to argue for social media-savvy staff members to the C-level executives if you can’t justify the benefits. To date, it has proven challenging to directly link things like re-tweets or blog posts to increased sales, especially for big-tickets items like database software or bulldozers.

Social media can be a great tool to help companies connect with their customers, partners and industry influencers and has potential to drive revenue growth. Whether you use an outside agency or take it in-house, a successful social media strategy must be part of the overall marketing plan for your company backed with real metrics.

How do you see social media strategies changing as they become an integral part of your marketing plan?

Social Networks Steal Time from Email

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Email vs Social Media The Nielsen Company issued a new research study this month with findings on how American’s spend their time online. Not surprising, social networking maintains the number one position with a 43% increase from last year’s study. American’s are spending a third of their time now engaged in social media at their computer- particularly social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs. It goes without saying that these channels are no longer a choice when it comes to marketing.  While the growth may taper, it’s still a force to be reckoned with.

What’s more interesting in the study is the data on email usage. Email has taken a 28% dip on the computer; however, is the number one activity on mobile devices. Apparently we like our email to go (I know I do).

Time Spent Online

Mobile ResearchI’d be very interested in seeing a deeper analysis of this particular data point. Are Americans getting tired of email and dealing with it while on the move? Or is it simply been reprioritized while sitting at the computer as we gain more from our time on social networks? I’d love to say we have less email, but if my inbox is any indication…

Email engagement trends will be interesting to watch in the coming years as we find new ways to communicate both personally and professionally.  Even GroupOn, which uses daily emails for its distribution, is expanding its reach through a targeted promotion with the Bravo Network according to a recent post by the Wall Street Journal. While smart to expand its brand visibility and reach, I have to wonder if email will become a less effective communication channel over time and they are anticipating this shift.

And to think email was once the “killer app”.

We Need More People & Companies to Ask the Question…Why Not?

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

It’s Monday morning and I’m in my usual work routine…check the headlines from business and tech publications to see what’s going on in the world. A good PR person never wants to be caught off-guard and have a client call to discuss news that is relevant to them and the industry without being prepared, but that’s just my humble opinion.

I just read what I consider to be a fascinating article by Daniel Terdiman from c/net titled “At IBM Research, a constant quest for the bleeding edge“. The article discusses a handful of projects that are being worked on at the nine IBM research centers around the world. One project with a biology slant involves two researchers who are coming up with a procedure in which they drilled a tiny hole into a microprocessor in order to allow a strand of DNA to go through and impact its nanocircuitry. Another project, called “Lab on a Chip,” is trying to create an inexpensive and quick way for medical facilities to test blood samples. And yet a third project could help municipalities offer residents cutting edge traffic and public transportation system predictions that are far better than anything available today.

What we’re seeing here is an emphasis on researching and developing new technologies that can help people in ways never thought possible before. As Terdiman stated:

“Throughout my visit to IBM Research, nearly everyone I spoke with brought up Smarter Planet, IBM’s corporate innovation program that aims to gather data from a wide variety of sources and use analysis of that data to solve new problems for customers and clients alike.”

So why am I going on and on in praise of IBM, a $97 billion company? Aside from the fact that my father worked for IBM for 30 years, which gave me a natural bias towards Big Blue, it reminded me of why I got into this business. I cannot design a microchip, am not qualified to do biological research and can’t describe how a CPU works. None of that interests me nor has it ever. And yet my world, both professionally and personally, revolves around technology.

What I have always loved about technology is how it impacts our world on a daily basis. Is my T-Mobile G1 phone with the Android O/S saving the world? No, but it has kept me from getting lost thanks to its Map application, allowed me to take a picture while boating in the middle of Lake Pend O’Reille in Idaho and posting it to Facebook in real-time, and let me instant message with my kids during carpools.

It’s these types of advances that give me hope that people and companies will continue to create new technologies that not only help support corporate growth, but allow young minds to be creative and ask the question…why not?

Helping Customers is a Smart Strategy

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

With technology in particular, there’s a tendency to get excited about a whiz-bang bit of “breakthrough” or “innovative” or worse “unique” gizmo or piece code that some smart guys in India cooked up for you. Seriously, who cares if something is unique or first if it’s completely useless?

I’m the first to admit that technology is cool, and I can easily get excited about a gadget just because it’s cool. I have many gadget sitting on shelves gathering dust for that very reason. Once the excitement was past, it turned out that the gadget wasn’t all that useful, reliable, or helpful.

In his Convince and Convert blog, Jay Baer makes the point that finding out where customers can use your help can improve your marketing efforts. He advocates implementing your marketing activities in such a way that customers will find some utility in your communication. One example I have is a newsletter we get from a local auto repair shop full of quirky tidbits and useful tips on gardening or cleaning out the attic. My wife actually takes the time to read it, and then gives me the coupon for an oil change.

Applied to technology marketing, helpfulness should be a big part of your strategy. It’s important to remember to always tie your messages back to what your product or service actually does for the customer. Ask the question, how does this help make the customer’s life better in some meaningful way. Ideally, you should be able to make that case that if people fit a certain profile, they will be significantly better off using your product then they were previously, or if they used a competitive product. If you are struggling to understand your audience’s needs, maybe it’s time to do a bit more research and message development.

Tools like ROI calculators that give customers a way to evaluate whether or not your product will help save some money are incredibly valuable. Yet, too often I hear about how hard it is to figure out ROI. These days customers are most interested in saving money so demonstrating how much money your software will save is a great strategy for anything in the B2B world.

On the B2C front, a big part of the iPhone’s success ties back to the huge catalog of apps. While many of them are fluff, a large number are actually helpful. Once people find something to be useful, they tell their friends who in turn run out and buy an iPhone. The real genius in the iPhone isn’t the touch screen, but a friendly UI that lets people discover and use truly helpful apps.

Want a blowout success? Think long and hard about how you can help your customers. What are their pain points and how can you help?


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