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Friday, March 30, 2012

Do Your Homework

Successful marketing – particularly when high visibility branding and campaign naming is involved -- requires doing your homework. One of the most important homework assignments” is research into all aspects of a name and its ramifications -- without which you will likely run into PR problems. . For example, last year Netflix learned the hard way after choosing “Qwikster” as the name of its spin-off company. Qwikster turned out to be the twitter handle of a teenage boy who had been posted embarrassing tweets -- a far cry from the image Netflix was trying to portray.

Now we have a Nike example to learn from.

This month Nike apologized for naming a shoe after a well-known American drink – Black and Tan.  Their aim: make the connection between the drink and St. Patrick’s Day. It just so happened that the name also refers to a violent paramilitary group that massacred civilians during the Irish Revolution in 1920.

Names carry a lot of weight these days – in part because of the internet where what you say can live forever. At CommCore we encourage clients to do their due diligence carefully by researching all aspects of the marketing and branding strategy beforehand. Choices on names and campaigns should be in line with the company’s brand message, mission and values.

It’s also important do have a system of checks and balances. Marketing ideas should be vetted across the multiple disciplines including PR and Crisis Management; more eyes to see any red flags. Otherwise, you may be unnecessarily putting your company’s brand reputation at stake.

What precautions does your company use to protect its reputation during the “creative” process?

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Protecting the NFL Brand

If you follow the NFL, the news of the day is the one-year suspension and fine of New Orleans Head Coach Sean Payton for his involvement in the now-famous bounty program as well as the indefinite suspension of Greg Williams, the defensive coach who concocted the scheme.  Over a three-year period, Saints players were paid extra for targeting and in some cases injuring opposing players during football games.

However, if you follow crisis communications like we do, the real story is the decisive steps Commissioner Roger Goodell is taking to protect the brand and reputation of the NFL.  Part of his statement reads: "Respect for the game and the people who participate in it will not be compromised." 

There was no knee-jerk reaction from the NFL.  Goodell acted in two steps. He reacted quickly when the news broke, then took advantage of the crisis "golden hour" to weigh all the options before handing down what is being called punishments of historic proportions. 

Protecting the reputation of a multi-billion dollar brand isn't easy.  Do you believe the Commissioner's actions will help or hurt the NFL brand?

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How long does slime last??

The industry calls it "lean finely textured beef".   The social media world has dubbed it "Pink Slime"...or did they?  That phrase was actually coined by a federal microbiologist in 2002.  It was first reported in a 2009 in a New York Times article.  A successful social media firestorm co-opted the term in its effort to get pink slime out of school lunches.  For those new to this topic, pink slime is the low-grade trimmings that come from the parts of the cow most susceptible to contamination.  But because of the treatment of the trimmings - simmering them in low heat,  separating fat and tissue using a centrifuge and spraying them with ammonia gas to kill germs - the United States Department of Agriculture says it's safe to eat.

The USDA, which oversees school nutrition, is now allowing school districts to opt out of serving pink slime.

The social media uproar and the use of the name pink slime is not surprising.  What's really interesting here is that the pink slime news cycle is more than three years old.  At CommCore we understand the importance of strategic messaging and counsel our clients that in today's world of social media, what you say now will be around for a long time.  That's why we need to continually monitor all media; social and conventional.  Reporters and bloggers have a way of dredging up long-lost topics.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Are women better leaders? HBR says yes.

There's a new study in the Harvard Business Review of 16 characteristics of leadership  in which female leaders outpace their male counterparts.

Based on experience with hundreds of companies and organizations the categories that don't surprise me are building relationships and developing others.  Women have anecdotally been acknowledged for this.  Other categories weren't totally surprising, but it's good to have the data.  Women scored higher than men in other leadership categories such as:

  • Taking initiative
  • Embracing change
  • Integrity
  • Communicates powerfully and prolifically 

The issue I have with articles like these is that they show differences on a scale.  What they don’t show (much like other ratings of who has a better consumer product) is whether the overall skills of leaders are better than they were 5 years ago or 10 years ago.  I'm not suggesting that they are or are not (I hope leadership skills and abilities are increasing) but the context would be helpful.

An HBR article like is bound to engender comments and other studies. Have you seen any other studies that support these findings?  What's your view of the HBR study?

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OMG - Gap speaks in real English

If you think that The Gap's clothes are hip, so is the way they treat social media with their employees.

An article from Ragan.com, describes The Gap's social media policy as a straight and to the point approach that includes conversational language sans legalese. The guidelines are not open to the public, but the article did share some highlights from the iPhone-sized booklet titled "OMG you will never guess what happened at work today!!"

Regardless of the size of an organization, a social media guideline for employees is as important as the "Employee Handbook". Everybody needs to know what they can and cannot say on social networks.

At CommCore when we work with clients for proactive media training and for reactive crisis planning and response, we always ask if there is a social media policy in place. We recommend that it has to be understandable and applicable to the specific organization. The Gap provides an example of how to keep things simple and to the point.

Does your company have a social media policy in place? Have you seen others similar to The Gap's?

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lesson From the Media Side

A good line surfaced during Q and A at a forum at PR firm Powell Tate on the implications of social media for journalists and journalism.

Panelist Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post was engaged in an exchange with an audience member on ethics and accuracy in the age of Twitter. The questioner quoted her father, an ex-reporter and journalism professor at Columbia University: "There's no such thing as an objective reporter. What we need is transparency so we know where he or she is coming from."

That's likely true for journalism in today's increasingly partisan media. It's also probably prescient to imagine that's where the blend of real-time social media sharing, citizen journalists, bloggers and aggregators, and major brand media will be ten years from now.  

And it's a good lesson if you extend it to professional communicators in PR and corporate communications. Those readers who represent consumer brands or major institutions know that when something bad happens, many people will blame you on principle and believe anything you say is biased in your favor.

At CommCore we remind our clients that in a breaking crisis – especially one that negatively affects large sectors of the public –it is unlikely you will be able to convince everyone that you are being truthful. Brands in crisis are often perceived as villains first, perhaps victims later if facts eventually support that conclusion. Though you can manage it, you can't count on controlling the public's knee-jerk preconceptions. But you CAN make them believe that you are doing your best if you communicate quickly and with transparency:
·         Monitor social media and engage quickly in dialogue with key bloggers and online communities.
·         Communicate what you know and do NOT hide behind vague canned statements.
·         Update your website or with key facts and contact information, or activate your "dark" site.
·         Get the organization's leadership involved from the get-go and you can score transparency points in a crisis that can mitigate criticism by those who are disposed against you.

What are your observations on transparency in brand or organizational communication?

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

You have to say "I'm Sorry" more than once

The latest TSA story igniting the social space...a nursing mom was forced to use her breast pump in a public restroom in order to get though airport security.  According to news reports, the TSA official wasn’t convinced that the 38-year-old school vice principal with her nine month old daughter in tow was carrying a real breast pump.  "It really confuses me as to how an empty breast pump and cooler pack are a threat to national security and 20 minutes later, with milk, they no longer pose a threat to national security," the outraged mom said.

The TSA offered up a public statement with an apology   Other than that statement, is the TSA being proactive in social media? Are they using their social communications channels, (Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.) to say they’re sorry?  Should they on this incident or others?  Are they reaching out to the public by posting on the blogs and online publications with the same message?  As of this writing, we haven't seen it.  At CommCore, we tell our clients you should go where the people are "talking" and engage in their language, not corporate-speak.  At the very least, you need to monitor what your customers and stakeholders are saying  The TSA would definitely receive negative comments if they started engaging, but they might also get points for sincerity.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bite Your Tongue

It’s not quite a Rush Limbaugh-esque on-air remark. But Winston-Salem (NC) Journal reporter Travis Fain’s inopportune comment to a school board member elicited an apology that contains a communications lesson of the first order.

It seems Fain was less than pleased when a school board member repeated several times that he would not speak to any Journal reporter. Fain then called him a part of the male anatomy. That, in turn, caused the school board to send him and the newspaper a warning letter.

As a contrite Fain publicly responded afterwards: "There's a lesson in that for anyone, especially these days, when your dumb moments live on through Google and the Internet." He concluded by saying, "[P]eople I've worked with over the years ans scores of potential future editors will see it [online]. That is the kind of control you cede when you do somethgn stupid."

At CommCore, we advise all our communications clients to take a pause before responding, especially when under duress. Bite your tongue (literally if softly), or purse your lips like Bill Clinton, or start off by saying, "Well…" slowly as Ronald Reagan did. Give your brain a moment to register what you are responding to, and how, before saying anything.

What are your tips for pausing before replying?

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Friday, March 2, 2012

PR for PR

The old platitude within the Public Relations industry is that PR people are good at communicating for everyone except themselves.

No surprise, then, that the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) – the nation's largest PR organization – last fall spearheaded a campaign to redefine the industry in collaboration with a dozen other organizations.  The feeling was – and we at CommCore concur – that in an age of a fragmented news industry, social media, citizen journalists, and high profile celebrity spin doctors, the PR field could use a good makeover.

Since last fall's call for entries PR professionals submitted 927 definitions. And today the result is in. The winner from among the three finalists, with 46.4% of the votes: "Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics."

Second place, with 30.1% of the votes, went to, "Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals." Third place, with 23.6%, went to, "Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships."

None exactly rolls off the tongue, but in fairness all neatly (and similarly) summarize what PR people do every day:
·         Public Relations IS a process.
·         It DOES require building and maintaining relationships between organizations and their brands and the public.
·         And, yes, ideally it IS to everyone's benefit.

What do you think of the re-definition of PR? Does it correctly describe the discipline?

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