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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

You Don't Know Jack

Generally cease-and-desist letters are not pleasant, to put it mildly. Lawyers tend to write them with the intent of scaring an alleged offender into altering this or that action. "Change what you're doing, or we're coming after you, etc."

Jack Daniels, the iconic sour mash whiskey distiller and long-standing proud corporate citizen of Louisville, KY, surprisingly opted for a gentler approach when it found out that a local self-published author Patrick Wensink had illegally co-opted its well-known brand design for a book cover.

(L-R): Jack Daniel's whisky label and the cover of Louisville-based author Patrick Wensink's new novel, Broken Piano For President

Rather than threaten to sue for trademark infringement and demand the return of any unsold books, they applauded the writer for appreciating the aesthetic and commercial value of their logo. They even scored PR points in social media by offering to pay part of the author's cost of re-designing the cover for future printings after the current run sells out.

Looks to us at CommCore like Jack Daniels' PR and customer relations savvy likely trumped the legal department. There's a communications lesson here for brands – first assess all aspects of a situation that might appear to require penalizing an offender before calling in your hired guns. You may just find there's an opportunity to gain goodwill, score points for civility, AND remedy the problem without incurring legal costs.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Video: CommCore Andrew Gilman on FOX5 News on Penn State Scandal - Crisis Communications


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Sorry State Of Campaign Storytelling

Liberal blogger Arianna Huffington, publisher of the Huffington Post, poses an ages-old question to both contenders for the Presidency, "So, guys, what’s the story?"

At CommCore, we're not taking sides in the Presidential race. But we note that she says when it comes to storytelling, President Obama has lost his mojo, Mitt Romney is inept, and both have failed to connect with the American public. She writes, "Obama hasn't delivered [on a narrative, and] Romney remains clueless about the fact that the office he's running for isn't CEO of the country. It's much bigger than that. And telling stories, casting a narrative, is an essential element in communicating ideas and values, and an integral part of leading -- especially leading from the Oval Office."


Huffington points out that the American Experience is built on storytelling. That’s something leaders as different as Ronald Reagan, FDR, and JFK understood. Huffington concludes, "Translating ideas into action is, of course, the essence of the president's job. So that's exactly what campaign season should be about -- each candidate telling us the story of where he thinks we are as a country and, more importantly, where he wants to take us. The best way -- the only way -- to do that is with narrative."

At CommCore we borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill –  "The Language of Leadership." Storytelling is what connects people, what resonates with them, what makes them believe that a leader understands them, has a vision, and has their interests at heart. Attacks divide; stories unite. Out-of-context sound bites titillate; relevant anecdotes illuminate.

Without storytelling, we are left with hollow words. At a time of national and global malaise, that's not communication; it's noise.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

CHAIN, CHAIN, CHAIN…CHAIN OF FOOLS

The shocking report by Special Investigator and former FBI Director Louis Freeh on the conduct of Penn State University officials during the buildup to the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal demonstrates how a slow, hidebound institutional culture and chain of command can exacerbate a crisis to disastrous proportions. The lesson learned? It's what our mother always told us at the kitchen table…once you know something is terribly wrong, hiding your head in the sand will make it way harder when the bad news is revealed.


As crisis communications counselors, we at CommCore always remind our clients that transparency – internally as well as externally – is paramount in effective reputation management.  However, as we see at Penn State, transparency just wasn't in their culture. One can't always predict a lawsuit, though Penn State officials should have considered the possibility because they knew for years they were dealing with eyewitness accounts and not rumors. But this situation illustrates a couple of key points:

·         An institutional culture ruled by fear that public exposure of any wrong-doing will cause loss of money or status will likely paralyze a chain of command, as appears to have happened here.
·        Acting transparently, early and decisively on hard information at hand means a reputation may be sullied, but has a chance to be vindicated in the long run.


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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A New “Tobacco Moment”


When a respected publication like The Economist proclaims a scandal as global finance’s “tobacco moment,” you know it’s not referring to your average PR-crisis. The furor over Barclays’ alleged LIBOR interest rate fixing is not likely to go away anytime soon for two reasons, both of which should give finance execs pause:

•    Experts agree that Barclays represents only the tip of the iceberg. No bank has the market power to manipulate an interest rate by itself, so, as the Wall Street Journal suggests, other banks and even regulators in the U.S. and Europe likely could be implicated. This means more media attention will be dedicated to the scandal – and the banking industry – over a longer period of time.

•    The LIBOR scandal accentuates the ongoing narrative in the media and the blogosphere of banks acting like crooks. From the onset of the financial crisis in 2008 through the J. P. Morgan debacle in May each successive crisis has shifted the public conversation to the industry’s disadvantage.



The LIBOR rate determines the value of trillions of dollars of securities, including those affecting credit card and student loan interest rates. It should not surprise anyone — as it apparently initially caught Barclays management off guard — that news of the scandal would sweep the front-pages, hijack political agendas, and potentially risk unleashing a wave of class-action lawsuits.

So what does this mean for Barclays and its competitors? While each institution’s crisis response should be tailored for its specific needs, we at CommCore recommend they all weigh the following when deciding on a communications strategy:

•    The new scrutiny of regulators’ roles in allegedly encouraging such behavior likely will only increase political pressure for tougher regulations and more intrusive enforcement that can alter the landscape for investment banks like Barclays. Rep. Barney Frank, among others, has already begun doing so.

•    Those banks that come clean gain a first-mover advantage over their competitors as they begin repairing their reputations, as another Economist article suggests. Certainly Barclays has already begun this process as former CEO Bob Diamond is publicly reneging on his $31 million bonus. 


•    To the extent their legal counsel allows, concessions by the banks that they made serious mistakes will work best if done forcefully and transparently. The LIBOR scandal has further damaged the banking sector’s already tarnished public reputation. Rebuilding it will be difficult and will take time.

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