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Category Archives: Public Relations

Bad week for United, Pepsi and Spicer. Good week for apologies.

A week like no other, when an airline, a fizzy drink and the White House faced the wrath of citizens.

Here are the three apologies.

The Pepsi Apology

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize…we did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

 

The United Airlines Apology

“The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.”  Oscar Munoz, CEO   Read the full statement here.

The Sean Spicer Apology

“In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust….I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2017 in Public Relations

 

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Pepsi lesson: Our B.S. detectors still work

Brand storytelling can be too fixated on featuring celebrities, weaving them in for name recognition, rather than for something they represent.

So why did Pepsi take this latest tack with Kendall Jenner? After all it had decades of insight, having used people from Michael J Fox to Michael Jackson. (Remember this one, in which Michael J Fox braves traffic, and rain?)

Inserting Jenner into a protest movement means nothing to Millenials. Unless Pepsi assumed they would fall for the fake anti-establishment story line. (Throwing in a head scarfed photo-journalist into the mix.) Or they thought most young people would like to see a can of soda solve a street crisis. Maybe they were trying to borrow from the iconic image of that calm activist in Baton Rouge who walked up to armed police.

It reminds me of the cringe-worthy tweet by Kenneth Cole in 2011, trying to hijack the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt with a brand message about its spring collection.

Writer Eric Thomas called out the lame Pepsi ad as “the holy grail of offensive media.” He dissected, frame by frame, what Pepsi got so wrong. He noted that as storytellers, we owe it to ourselves to “fight for more understanding” –and by this he means coming up with course corrections for other storytellers. “Millennials have hyper-advanced B.S. detectors,” warns Thomas.

To me there was positive that emerged out of this brand story. The hoi polloi detected the B.S. and told Pepsi in no uncertain terms.

 

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Typos in educashen tweets mask bigger issues

I’m sure Dan Quayle, the vice president who got famous for (mis)spelling ‘potatoe must feel vindicated, now that the new US Education secretary had a tweet sent out to correct a typo in a previous tweet. Unfortunately the apology contained this gem:

“Post updated – our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo.”

Now I’m not going to join the bandwagon and frame it as the end times in education. We all make mistakes. Even one like this, as her staff did. Mistakes happen when we blurt things out without much thought.

However, there are some lessons here worth repeating about using a social media handle to go public:

What is the purpose? Micro-blogging, or trying to communicate in 140 characters requires a different discipline (from say shouting, or firing off a press release). One needs to craft the message to the channel and its audience. What was the point of the Education secretary’s Twitter handle being used to publish a quote from the essayist and author? Just to show that the department is clued up on sociology and civil rights? Come on! Does the Dalai Lama need to quote Gandhi to prove himself?

Whose ‘voice’ is it? A department or an organization comprises many divisions. But the top dog sets the tone of voice. A random quote is quite an anemic way to communicate, since it basically reflects no one. Is the channel a news feed, or for insight into the workings of the organization? Is it a place to link to important assets, or ideas? It can’t be all things to all people. Define your brand voice!

Who is doing it for you? Sure someone else may manage the communication, but you oversee it. Or, as some companies like Dell do it, set up multiple Twitter accounts for different constituents. This was something we discussed in 2009 and 2010.

Perhaps government agencies shood should go back to Twitter skhool school. Or at laest least take communication 101.

 

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No magic eraser on the Internet. UC Davis learns the hard way

There’s a corollary to that old saw, “On the Internet, information lives forever,” and it’s this: “There’s no such thing as a magic eraser.”

But that doesn’t stop people from trying. Like this case of University of California, Davis and the ‘image scrubbing’ scandal. There are still companies offering services to clean up bad information by some dubious SEO work. But most experts say this isn’t possible. Search engines crawl, index and place information in so many places it’s not possible to delete a bad story once it gets out. Especially something has covered by the media, shared, and posted to several media channels. UC Davis reportedly paid two PR firms $175,000 for this magic eraser.

Is this a good thing that we cannot turn back the clock? It has given rise to a privacy right case known as the ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ right that the European Union fled against Google in 2012. It states that : “Individuals have the right – under certain conditions – to ask search engines to remove links with personal information about them.” A good Fact Sheet is available here. There’s a longer discussion in Stanford Law Review, here.

I feel sorry for US Davis, because the story they tried to bury has given rise to hundreds more – giving the original piece that much more links. SEO companies often advice as much: Instead of trying to delete a story try to generate enough good information that will push down (not take down) the bad.

Oddly enough, while Google has complied, it accidentally revealed data about these requests.

Which brings me to social media literacy and privacy. We ought to be telling young people the ramifications of over sharing, being in pictures –group shots or selfies –that they might regret later.

 

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“Sending a message” – There’s the contents and there’s the medium

Slogans or protest messages on T-shirts get stale, however funny.

Speaking of making a statement, I can’t think of a better artist who has been ‘sending a message’ than Bansky.

But when a mailman landed a gyrocopter on the Washington Mall this week it was not the message that got people’s attention, but the medium. One man in an exposed flying machine.

You know it’s creative because no one seems to be talking about the contents of the envelopes that c was supposedly carrying to the nation’s lawmakers at the Capitol. We are all focused on the delivery method, aren’t we?

Marshall McLuhan  who coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ must be smiling, up there. No tweets. No PR agency. No Facebook page. But a pretty powerful statement.

Note: Hughes does maintain a website, where he says

Hello – I’m Doug Hughes, a mailman, pilot and the author of this web site. In my time, I’ve delivered a lot of letters, and I’m delivering 535 letters by ‘air mail’ today – a special delivery to every member of the US Congress.

On this blog post (worth a read) he speaks of wanting to ‘change the narrative’ in Washington about whom we elect. He might succeed — if only the evening news folk will only stop talking about the potential danger of the stunt.

 

 

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Speaking like Jobs – Presentation tips from 10 years ago

Exactly 10 years ago this week, Steve Jobs took to the stage –a technique he would go on to perfect — to launch the iPod Shuffle.

That was Jan 11th, 2005.

I often do ‘anniversary’ events in my class, to get young people to think about where we are now, in relation to where we and the technologies we take for granted were once at. After all, this is a Computer and Technology Lab, and I don’t want to get into the trap of always featuring today’s shiny new object, or the hottest new parlor trick in digital media. We often need context, and it tends to fly by when we refresh our feeds, doesn’t it?

Back to Jobs. His presentation trick was to use insanely simple devices. Well rehearsed, and well timed but simple. Which made him very different from his tech contemporaries, who revel in Silicon Valley argot. (Yes, I listen to ‘This Week in Tech, to catch up with the other kind of tech-talk!)

Listen to how he works up the crowd, and keeps them hanging on for that characteristic”One more thing.”  Fast forward to 1:35, and see what I mean.

  • He uses words like ‘noodled’ (He “noodled on it” not “researched it”)
  • He uses unexpected pauses, and slows down and speeds up suddenly
  • He uses home-spun images – comparing the iPod Shuffle to a pack of gum, and contrasting it with four quarters

Notice how he also stays away from big words, using words like “easy”, “simple,” “thing,” etc. (And yet, peppering his presentation with keywords!)

Even if there was no YouTube, I bet we would still listen to it.

 

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Brand Voices vs Brand Conversations

It’s easy to confuse the power of voice, when discussing ‘brand voice.’

(Don’t bother Gogling it, as there are some 441 million results, some of it with the predictable talk about signage etc.)

The Voice of the Brand belongs to two groups, depending on whom you speak to:

(a) The people who define the brand, and “know” what it stands for, and articulate it in their channels. This is really what I would call Brand Talk. Sometimes I cynically call it Bland Talk.

(b) The folks to buy it or use it, and talk it up in their own communities, and sometimes on the brand-owned channels. These are, arguably, more authentic Brand Voices. They tell you why people are using the product or paying attention.

But let’s cut through all this and look at brand conversations, to figure out what are the most valuable conversations? These are what social media helps us unearth: those incomplete, poorly phrased sentences, the angst-ridden, or cult-like exchanges in a forum, or comments section. Those self-appointed ambassadors and know-it-alls…

Sadly, brand managers are not always up to snuff on handling the latter; this sort of anarchy; of data-mining conversations; of engaging with those the bosses instinctively want to block or ban those outside voices from the website.

ONE OF THE FEW AD-MEN who bucks the trend and critiques one-way Brand Talk, calls for true brand conversations.

Nimal Gunewardena, CEO of Bates Strategic Alliance, happens to be moderating a round table discussion I will be part of, when I launch my book, Chat Republic, in Sri Lanka in a few weeks.

His screed about Brand Conversations, called for an abandonment of ‘sales talk’ and the 30-second-commercial mindset. It seemed akin to 1st century monks arguing against using calligraphy.

“It’s time to start thinking beyond that 30 second commercial. It’s time to combine the power of TV with the connectivity and engagement power of digital and social media. It’s time to explore new formats. Two-way conversations, rather than one-way broadcasts. It’s time to talk to communities who have common interests.

To which one person commented:

“oh how our vocabularies have changed recently! We are all part of a social media revolution and it’s simply not possible to have our heads deep in the sand any more.”

It’s so easy to provide knee-jerk responses to the role of conversations: To engage, to discuss, to share etc. I try to pry these apart in Chat Republic, and encourage readers to think of conversations as the ‘operating system’ for their community (OK, maybe the brand) they manage.

We cannot bury our brand-saturated heads in the bland.

 

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