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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tylenol vs. Toyota

Tylenol vs. Toyota

Toyota's January 2010 massive recall and sales stoppage of vehicles has been quickly compared to the recall by Johnson & Johnson of Tylenol in 1982.

Most of the similarities are in the enormity of the recall and the proactive nature of the effort. However, there are more differences in the nature of the problem and the current similarity than there are similarities.

Similar to J&J, Toyota is going beyond what it may legally be required to do in recalling vehicles. J&J went further than what was required by the FBI to pull products from the shelves. Toyota is getting a big splash from total sales and production stoppage.

Tylenol was a different product, a different situation and a different environment. The difference between Tylenol's facts - and perhaps including SARS and 9/11 as crises - is that there was no "contributory negligence" on the part of the brand or J&J. While no product manufacturer ever wants to have a problem or defect, the fact is that TOYOTA did something that caused the problem. In the case of Tylenol, these were well made tablets that "someone else" tampered with. No one at J&J has ever been accused of doing anything wrong.

And of course, the media world is profoundly different from 1982. While J&J didn't think so at the time, the company had a relatively easy time of controlling the story and the message. The media was print, radio, TV and advertising. Now, it's the kitchen sink, with YouTube, chat rooms, Twitter and blogs the most difficult to control. J&J was hampered by not having a web site to post its information, Toyota is using its http://www.toyota.com/ for releasing information. I'm personally a bit surprised at the relatively small size of the button on the home page.

One more item. During Tylenol, J&J Chairman Jim Burke was the face of the brand and the company. So far, no one from Toyota has emerged to give this terrible event a human dimension. In addition to the web site, I'm surprised that Toyota is not using its YouTube channel with even a brief statement. Now that the crisis has gone global, it would be appropriate to have a faces of the company and post in many languages to reach more customers.

How do you think Toyota is doing?

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Yogi Berra Tells It Like It Is

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lessons for Business Leaders from the Massachusetts Election

The talking heads and columnists will analyze/spin the politics behind the Massachusetts upset by Scott Brown (R) over Martha Coakley (D) for Teddy Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat.

At CommCore, we think there's a lesson or two for business leaders in all this: First, know your customer. Second, celebrity CEOs don't necessarily win over buyers.

In the first case, Coakley and her team ran a weak campaign that never connected with voters:
- She lost the sound bite war. Her gaffe was calling Curt Schilling Red Sox star pitcher and blue collar hero a New York Yankee. In contrast, Brown had a slam dunk with the line, "It's not the Kennedy seat, it's the people's seat."
- She made tactical errors like going to Washington to meet with lobbyists and major donors a week before the election. The cumulative effect made it appear she was elitist, out-of-touch, didn't know who the voters were, or understand their angst about so-called Big Government and Fat Cats.
- She never introduced herself with a compelling storyline to back her law enforcement credentials as a prosecutor. How many people knew her husband was a cop? How come he wasn't out there in person and in TV spots touting her toughness and caring for everyday citizens?

Can you imagine a business successfully touting its product or service without a thorough understanding of the customer, the market, and communicating a compelling brand message that resonates? That's what Coakley failed to do. Wealthy suburban lawyer Brown, meantime, drove around in a highly-visible old pickup truck with 200,000 miles on it, and was portrayed as a hero of the people.

The second point, about celebrity CEOs, reminds us of the old line from Tip O'Neill, a Bostonian and former Speaker of the House. O'Neill's mantra: "All politics is local." So while "national CEO" President Obama is personally popular in the state, he couldn't convince Massachusetts voters to change their minds about the candidates/products in front of them despite his star quality and oratorial skill.

Lesson number two for business leaders: senior executives' popularity and celebrity are assets to be tapped carefully and selectively. They are not substitutes for an enterprise properly framing and communicating strong brand and product messages that meet a target audience's needs and wants.

Can you think of businesses and their leaders who have made the same mistakes as the Coakley campaign? Conversely, which business leaders have learned the communications and public relations lessons and managed best to connect with their target market?

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Timing Isn't Everything, But It Counts For A Lot

The Rev. Pat Robertson, one of America's best-known evangelist broadcasters, created a firestorm Wednesday night even as he was busy soliciting donations for earthquake-ravaged Haiti on his Christian Broadcasting Network's flagship show, "700 Club." Robertson intimated that Haiti had been cursed by God for making a pact with the Devil to kick out the country's former French colonial masters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXiyceNZmiU

"You know ... something happened a long time ago in Haiti....They were under the heel of the French...They got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you get us free from the French.' And so, the Devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out," Robertson said. "You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another."

It didn't take long for the statement to create tremors of its own. Religious leaders such as Franklin Graham (son of evangelist Billy Graham) condemned the comment. "He must have misspoken," Graham said of Robertson. "But we need to get on the path of helping people right now. God loves the people of Haiti. He hasn't turned his back on Haiti." White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "At times of great crisis there are always people who say really stupid things." White House advisor Valerie Jarrett said on ABC that she was "speechless at that kind of remark. Our heart goes out to the people of Haiti....That's not the attitude that expresses the spirit of the president or the American people, so I thought it was a pretty stunning comment to make."

The Christian Broadcast Network website today contained an official statement claiming Robertson was speaking objectively about Haiti's history that has led "countless scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed. Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God's wrath," the statement reads. "If you watch the entire video segment, Dr. Robertson's compassion for the people of Haiti is clear."

There are times when efforts at "clarification" ring hollow, and this is one of them. At CommCore we advise our crisis communications clients that timing is one crucial factor among many when deciding whether to apologize for a public statement that created controversy, intentional or not, or whether to try to explain it away.

With the very real possibility of tens of thousands of fatalities in Haiti at this very moment, and the prospect of a rebuilding effort that will take years to complete, now is not the time to parse phrases and try to convince an audience of what Robertson may or may not have "meant" to say.

Now would be a time to come right out and apologize immediately for making a statement that regardless of whether it was interpreted correctly, was ill-conceived and inappropriate.

What do you think? Can you come up with other misguided efforts at revisionist history after a controversial public statement created an uproar?

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Crisis & NBA Players with Guns

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Power of LinkedIn Groups for Entrepreneurs and Communicators

Here's an ongoing case study of a great use of LinkedIn Groups that solves the entrepreneur's issue of where to go for inputs and advice.

I say ongoing because fellow professionals are still chiming in with advice.

Here's the issue: A solo PR practitioner has a delicate and challenging crisis situation. The details are less important than the concern that unless handled well, the situation could get blown out of proportion through media coverage, negative blogging and community activism.The practitioner doesn't have 4 partners down the hall to brainstorm with, so she put out a request on a LinkedIn PR group for help ASAP. Unlike too many LinkedIn postings which are paper-thin marketing pitches, this one was a genuine request.

Over the past 18 hours I've seen 20+ thoughtful responses, with both analysis and practical suggestions. The responses refer to each other and build into real consultative help for the practitioner. Here's a sample of what the requesting PR person wrote to her colleagues: "You are all amazing! I'm sending a few of you private responses to your questions...We now have solid plans in place for just about every situation we can think of. I can't thank you all enough."

Seems to me this is the essence of what social media - especially among professional communities - is supposed to be about: less self-promotion and more genuinely useful conversations that leverage the knowledge and skills of a particular online professional community. As professional communicators, that's something to remind ourselves about the next time no one responds to a LinkedIn posting.

Anyone else with such a good experience with LinkedIn?

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