Apr 18

Press Two for Frustration

I must admit to being torn as to which advanced technology causes me more angst: robocalls from Uzbekistan or becoming hopelessly lost in voice mail hell.

Since I was recently contacted by Clutch and asked to blog about the findings of their recent report on “phone menus”, I’ve opted to address voice mail hell.

Here’s their report.

Since the research told me what I already knew, I asked Riley Panko of Clutch what insights were gleaned from the findings.

She shared three:

1.) Keep phone menu options to three or less.

2.) Consider more creative ways to personalize phone menus without taking up a customer’s time. Kin Insurance, for example, routes an incoming call to the appropriate resource BEFORE the caller even speaks to someone. Good for you, Kin.

3.) Always include the option to speak to a living, breathing human being.

Pivoting quickly as we communication pros like to say, I wondered what the corporate purpose of the technology companies responsible for selling phone menu technology might be?

– “Making the world an even more intolerable place in which to live”

– “Further fanning the flames of an already furious consumer base”

– “Playing our bit in helping Big Pharma sell even more anti-anxiety meds”

Robo calls and getting lost in voice mail hell are just two of the more unfortunate realities of life in the year 2019.

Three cheers to Clutch for trying their best to ease our pain.

Now please press one if you’d like further information on anger management. Press two for the name and location of a stress management program near you. And don’t bother pressing three because there is no live person handling incoming calls at Repman.com.

Apr 09

Would Anyone Notice?

I have the distinct pleasure of being chairman of the Institute for Public Relations and a member of the Arthur W. Page Society.

This past week each organization convened in Manhattan for the IPR board meeting and Page Spring Conference, respectively.

The issue of the day (or week) was the purpose of purpose. Organizational purpose, that is.

I participated in three different purpose brainstorming sessions that included the best and brightest from the worlds of corporate America, academia and the agency world.

The bottom line is that purpose is still very much a work in progress.

For example, it is still seen by some Wall Street-focused CEO’s as non mission-critical (one participant referred to that baffling phenomenon as “the CEO blind spot”).

Others noted that purpose is still being confused by some CCO’s, CMO’s and CHRO’s with the corporate mission.

Most of the IPR/Page members “get” purpose. It’s intended to answer the question why:

– Why does an organization exist?

– Why do employees show up for work every day?

– Why do stakeholders engage with the entity?

Getting back to the mission vs. purpose confusion, I’d like to use Lowe’s Corporation to illustrate the difference.

The Lowe’s mission is: “Together, deliver the right home improvement products with the best service and value across every channel and community we serve.”

Having written a case study on Lowe’s for the Page Turner blog, I know the corporation’s purpose is “Helping people love the homes in which they live.”

Big difference, no? Their mission tells you what they do. But Lowe’s purpose explains why they exist.

One footnote: Our superb facilitator in the IPR brainstorm suggested every purpose exercise begin by asking one fundamental question: “Would anyone notice if our organization didn’t exist?”

Assuming the answer is affirmative, begin listing the reasons why and you will eventually uncover your purpose.

I recommend you do so at Mach Speed because, apart from the remaining CEO’s with blind spots, those who confuse mission with purpose and a few agency Luddites I can think of who still laugh it off as a fad, purpose WILL define the future success or failure of your business.

Apr 01

Sometimes bad publicity IS worse than no publicity at all

One of the more satisfying aspects of the multidimensional profession otherwise known as public relations is media training. It’s one of the few times when we exchange the seat of power with senior client executives and tell them what to do (or, shall I say, gently suggest what to do?). Media training is equal parts art and science and when practiced to perfection will end up with key client quotes and messages finding their way into articles and highlighted on cable interviews or, in rare cases, actually used as the headline by a leading business publication.

Sometimes, though, the best laid plans of mice and men (and media training) can go awry.

Case in point: The end results of the obviously botched media training of Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei by the fine folks at Burson Cohn & Wolfe (BCW).

As you’ll read in Clay Chandler’s column, BCW (which just unveiled its new tagline: “Moving People”) was hired to media train Huawei’s two rotating chairmen (now that sounds like a cool gig. I wonder what the non-rotating chairman does when his counterpart is rotating?).

Anyway, BCW’s job was to get these co-rotating spokespeople prepared for the U.S. media and to begin to build (or rebuild as the case may be) some rather tense barbs previously exchanged between the executives and their counterparts in the American business community. This was intended to be a friendship project.

Instead, it seems to have escalated to a modern day version of the Hatfield’s & McCoy’s.

Case in point, check out what Guo Ping, rotating chairman number one was quoted as saying,

  • “The U.S. government has a loser’s attitude. They want to smear Huawei because they can’t compete with us.”
  • Another headline read, “Huawei Executive Rips U.S. Government.”

Ouch.

Not be outdone by his rotating comrade, Eric Xu lashed out at two U. S. Congressmen as being “ignorant” and “ill-informed”. He also added, “There’s no way the U.S. can crush us. The world cannot leave us (China) because we are more advanced.”

I’m guessing those comments didn’t sit too well with Huawei’s chief communications officer. And, knowing how the food chain works in these situations, I have to believe the client is placing the blame squarely on BCW’s trainers.

Here’s what I think happened during the media training sessions: In between rotating chairs, or pens or whatever else they share, the rotating chairmen were undoubtedly paying scant attention to the valiant efforts of the BCW team, They most likely nodded, looked at their watches (or mobile devices) and left before the full session had been planned to conclude. BCW dutifully provided the executives with their message points, “staffed” the interviews and must have died a thousand deaths as the rotating chairmen laid waste to any lingering feelings of warmth between their company and this country.

I’m no geopolitical expert. But, I am a seasoned media trainer. I would not have let those two rotating chairman out of the conference room until the client CCO and we had guarantees (preferably in writing) from the gentlemen that they would avoid using words such as crush and loser in their interviews. Of course, reading between the lines, I’m sure the rotating chairman would have immediately crushed any sort of written script and went on their merry way. But, hey, nothing can save the day like a written trail of e-mails that cover the agency’s back. Nonetheless, I having to believe that BCW is moving people as a result of the high-profile gaffe.

So who’s fault is it when one of the world’s best media training organizations fails miserably to control two of the world’s most prominent telecommunications executives? I know who will most likely fire (or, crush, if you prefer) whom in this scenario. But I ask my loyal readers to weigh-in with their thoughts. What do you do with hard-headed clients who simply will not take your counsel and proceed to call their would-be friends (that would be the U.S. government) losers?

Before I leave the topic of media training, I must share a Golden Oldie with you.

One might position this as the Yin to the Ping/Xu Yang.

The clip’s been shown in many a media training session, but is well worth reviewing. In this instance, a PR firm did such a poor job of over-preparing a hapless Cadbury-Schweppes president that he robotically repeated the same thing over and over and over. And I have to believe the agency handling the media training was summarily fired that very same day.

So here are two instances in which bad publicity was indeed worse than no publicity at all.

Mar 18

How would YOU motivate Boeing’s battered, bloodied and bewildered workforce?

Following the introduction of a Next-Gen Airbus in 2010, Boeing reportedly rushed production of the 737 Max 8, a more powerful and fuel-efficient upgrade of the existing 737, without providing ANY flight simulation training to unaware pilots soon to be situated in the cockpits of the new plane. Boeing, if the implications are borne out, knowingly sent unsuspecting pilots, flight crews and passengers to their deaths.

In fact, according to this New York Times piece, flight training on the 737 Max 8 won’t even be available until 2020 at the earliest (assuming the plane is eventually cleared to fly again).

While it’s obvious why the world’s press is fixating on what Boeing knew and when they knew it, I couldn’t help but think what it must it be like to be one of the Boeing rank-and-file who, until the two recent air disasters, felt justifiably proud of their corporation’s mastery of the skies. Seeking insight, I turned the Repman flight controls over to Ann Barlow, president of Peppercomm’s West Coast office, resident employee engagement expert and, ironically, a one-time baggage handler for People’s Express.

Here’s our exchange:

1.) If you were Boeing’s chief human resources officer (CHRO), what would you being doing right now?

Let me say first that we are feeling for Boeing employees, knowing that this must be a difficult time. I also believe their CHRO is a highly experienced and accomplished professional who’s spent much of her career in aviation.

But if I were in her shoes, I would want to ensure a few things:

  • A commitment by senior leadership to be open, humble and empathetic with employees.  Legal will understandably want to tightly control what is shared, but demonstrating a reasonable amount of transparency and humility could keep talented employees from heading for the exits.
  • That managers create time and space for employees to talk with one another about what happened and how they are feeling. That means carving time out of regularly scheduled meetings, or providing extra break-times, to allow people to connect in person and via video.
  • Use more formal channels to share information and inspiration from leadership – town halls, internal social media and other platforms, plant meetings, etc.
  • That we offer employees guidance on what to say to friends and neighbors when asked about the accidents and the aircrafts’ safety.
  • Keep pulse-checking with employees to understand what they know, think and feel.

2.) How concerned would you be about retaining your current talent and, critically, continuing to attract the best and brightest engineers, designers and scientists from the top colleges and universities? What steps would you take right now to assure neither occurs?

It depends whether leaders are open and humble, especially when it comes to making necessary changes. If they aren’t, I’d be worried about turnover across the board, not just among the most elite talent. I wouldn’t relish the prospect of attracting new talent, either. And I’d know how hard it would be to motivate employees still on the job.

3) How would you arm Boeing’s employees to deal with questions from families and friends alike who ask how they could possibly work for a company that allowed a flawed jet to stay in use?

Employees probably won’t feel like wearing their Boeing-branded hoodies and caps in public. It’s only natural, however, that they get questions from their circle of friends and family. If armed with both facts and guidelines, employees can at least feel more confident answering questions. And while their job isn’t to rehabilitate the company’s image, properly equipped employees can actually help convey information and rebuild some goodwill.

There you have it. So how would you answer my three questions if you, and not Ms. Barlow, were Boeing’s CHRO?

Mar 08

McKinsey embraces transparency (sort of)

You know the business world is changing when a highly secretive firm like McKinsey opens the kimono and actually addresses the myriad scandals that have befallen the firm in the past year.

As you’ll read in this Fortune column as well as a more in-depth Q-and-A that’s embedded in the piece, McKinsey’s top partner, Kevin Sneader, has ushered in a new era of authenticity and responsibility by sending a letter to employees acknowledging “mistakes” and “learning from those mistakes.” We shall see if either promise becomes reality.

I’ve blogged about McKinsey’s high-profile missteps in South Africa, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Each also received massive coverage in the New York Times. But in each Times article, one needed a magnifying glass to find the briefest of statements from a McKinsey spokesperson that either admitted wrongdoing or spoke to how the firm would avoid committing such transgressions in the future.

If you believe what he says, Sneader promises the Nixonian-like secrecy will change, beginning from the inside out.

That’s critical since, if partners and employees believe they can continue to engage in shady, unethical or illegal behaviors and not suffer consequences, nothing will change.

That said, if you take the time to read Sneader’s responses to Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky’s questions, you’ll shake your head at the double talk, obfuscation and evasiveness. But, hey, the longest journey begins with a single step.

It remains to be seen if the Fortune interview was an experiment to test the transparency waters or the beginning of a new era of authenticity in the strategic consulting world.

I hope that, for McKinsey’s sake, they will stay the course and begin to admit mistakes, change policies and, yes, apologize for their wrongdoings.

In the long run, McKinsey may have no choice since, as Fortune CEO Today columnist Allan Murray writes: “More than ever, business leaders need to step up and show their actions are benefiting society… and admit they make mistakes.”

Fortune 500 C-Suites are still dominated by executives who choose silence over authenticity. But employee activists and consumers alike have made it clear they will no longer work for, or buy products from, companies that aren’t contributing to society at large. “These groups are increasingly challenging companies large and small to put purpose ahead of profit,” says BrandFoundations Chief Brand Architect Steve Goodwin. “It’s one of the primary reasons we’re partnering with Peppercomm to deliver a one-day ‘Purpose-Way-Impact’ workshop that helps organizations crystalize their most powerful “north star” foundational messages in a way that the stale, old ‘Mission-Vision-Values’ construct simply can’t match. It’s the perfect ’tip-of-the-spear’ for Peppercomm’s StandSmart offering.”

Organizations that continue to cover-up misdeeds may eventually win in court, but they most certainly will lose in the court of public opinion.

Feb 22

Does the D in Digital Stand for Dying?

I’ve read quite a few recent articles in the advertising and marketing trade press suggesting the halo surrounding the magical word “digital” is not only fading, but actually becoming a bit of an albatross.

According to this article in Marketing Week, more and more marketers are disbanding their separate digital departments and teams and folding them into the larger marcom group. Why? Because, just as was the case with social media, digital is no longer perceived as a standalone “thing.” It’s now seen as simply one more channel in the never-ending battle to engage with stakeholder audiences in a holistic way.

And, as the article points out, we all live in a digital world. So let’s move on and get back to calling ourselves marketers and not digital specialists or influencer specialists or CSR specialists, etc. We’re marketers, pure and simple.

This development comes as no surprise to me because, like so many previous cutting-edge products or service offerings, our industry witnessed a Gold Rush mentality on the part of many firms to immediately reposition themselves as being digitally driven. I like to survey the battlefield before deploying my resources. At Peppercomm, we’ve fully embraced digital, but have never elevated it to a pedestal higher than our other integrated offerings.

In retrospect, I think it was the right move because, as Marketing Week columnist Tom Goodwin said, “…using the word digital in the near future will come across as slightly batty.” And, as Mark Ritson, the author of this particular MW column, wrote, “As we speak, most senior marketers are making their power play and ensuring that the head of digital is being shifted horizontally towards the nearest window while they unite the two teams under their direct leadership.” Ouch! Caveat digital specialist.

Based upon this very real trend, it’s only a matter of time before the “digitally driven” moniker becomes a red flag to any corporation looking to engage a fully integrated agency. It’ll be similar to those firms who, in the aftermath of the dotcom bubble bursting, rapidly repositioned themselves as anything but dotcom specialists. I should know since I led Peppercomm’s repositioning.

While I certainly don’t claim to be a futurist, I sensed the digital metamorphosis would peak at some point in the future and be seen for what it is and what it isn’t (while simultaneously hearing digital specialists proclaim the death of public relations).

As the Marketing Week column confirms, we’re entering a new phase of marketing communications in which an old-school Wall Street Journal feature story is just as important as understanding the user experience and properly coding a new website.

The bottom line for me is this: the stakeholder audience will always determine which channel(s) a brand and its agency should use to engage with it and, ideally, convince that audience to consider the brand’s product or service.

So, digital, it was nice to know you. And social media, it’s been a real treat to partner with you through the years. Now let’s wake up before it’s too late and realize that a fully integrated in-house department or partner agency is the business model (and positioning) of the future. Oh, and by the way, thanks to the non-stop, 24×7 crisis world in which we live, public relations has never been more important. Any reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated

Feb 08

Designed to Fail.

It seems that every new day brings with it another egregious self-inflicted crisis caused by racially and gender-insensitive marketers.

The most recent examples are the truly horrific gaffes committed by Adidas and Gucci, respectively;

How could anyone think this was okay?

“There are somethings that just don’t make sense in life; Adidas celebrating black history month with this shoe is one example”

While the in-house marketing team and agency partners are unquestionably at fault for their lack of social awareness, I think the real genesis of these blunders lies with the designers and engineers.

These are the uber cool and uber insulated types who are constantly trying to come up with the hippest, sleekest and most cutting-edge sneakers, sweaters and widgets.

Having worked with designers and engineers alike, I know they live within their own ivory towers. They obsess over trends, technology and ease-of-use, but are oblivious to the larger societal issues rocking our world. As a result, a Gucci designer will create a way cool addition to an existing sweater without realizing that, when the add-on is added-on, it looks like someone in blackface.

And who else but an Adidas designer would come up with an all-white sneaker to celebrate Black History Month? (Note: I’ve alerted Adidas that they’ve just won the coveted Repman Award for the most tone-deaf brand in the world).

So here’s my solution to the problem: immediate diversity & inclusiveness training for product designers and engineers.

It seems to me that, if the designers and engineers are given the proper training, there will be far fewer opportunities for their marketing brethren to create a totally unnecessary cause celebre.

That said, stay tuned for next week’s self-inflicted brand misstep. 😎

Jan 30

Shattering Glassdoor’s Reputation

Achieving five stars on Glassdoor for an organization is the equivalent of a restaurant receiving 3 stars from Michelin Guide.

But based on an explosive Wall Street Journal expose, all that glitters at Glassdoor is most certainly NOT gold.

Here’s Peppercomm Partner Deb Brown’s POV. Personally, I’d give it 4.5 stars:

What happens when your entire business model is questioned? That’s what happened to Glassdoor recently when the Wall Street Journal published an investigative report titled, “How Companies Secretly Boost Their Glassdoor Ratings.” That title has to hurt, especially when on its website, Glassdoor states, “Built on the foundation of increasing workplace transparency…”

Employers flood the ranking site with 5-star postings requested from enthusiastic staffers, leading to unusual spikes, a WSJ investigation found.

To be fair to Glassdoor, employees who are upset at their former or current employer are probably more likely to post negative reviews than content employees posting positive reviews. And when “all” employees are encouraged to write reviews, are they all truthful or feel pressured in any way to write glowing reviews, even though they are anonymous?

Glassdoor does have policies in place and monitors reviews. But, that’s obviously not enough and its reputation is at risk. How can the public trust Glassdoor when looking for a job? How can companies that have accurate ratings compete for talent if their competitors are secretly boosting their ratings?

Glassdoor needs to immediately address this issue. It needs to admit fault, put stricter policies in place and explain how it will enforce them. If Glassdoor is revising its policies, then it needs to create a campaign articulating these critical changes in order to regain trust. The company should use an outside firm to help them develop this and communicate it. The CEO should proactively do interviews, be transparent about what needs to change, and how these new changes will be enforced. The company should also reach out to its most important clients to show it is committed to these changes.

If these claims are true, CEO Robert Holman needs to hold an all-hands meeting with his employees.

In addition, Glassdoor knew this investigative report was coming out since a spokesperson was quoted. The company should have made sure it was completely prepared. If it was prepared, I didn’t see evidence.

And, one has to wonder how Glassdoor employees would rate their employer after reading this story. This reputational issue is both external and internal. If he hasn’t done so yet, CEO Robert Holman needs to hold an all-hands meeting with his employees.

The bottom line is the company is built on the foundation of increasing workplace transparency. Glassdoor can’t ignore the article and must be transparent in how to fix this issue to safeguard – and rebuild – its reputation.

Otherwise, a competitor will see an open door…if it hasn’t already.

Jan 16

It’s a close shave

No matter how one analyzes Gillette’s controversial new campaign “Is this the best a man can get?” it’s fraught with uncertainties. And it most certainly has further divided an already divided country.

Truly the best a man can get?

First, though, a tip of the hat (or razor) to Gillette’s management for having the courage to double down on its purpose and values. But have they? Or is the campaign a mere ploy or stunt as some detractors claim whose only goal is to drive sales?

I think there are several factors to weigh when analyzing the Gillette campaign:

1) Is alienating a significant percentage of the male shaving market worth the risk of taking a stand and saying the right thing? We asked that very question of 50 CCOs and CMOs we interviewed in a joint research study with the Institute for Public Relations.

One CCO, who managed a global manufacturing company’s marketing spend, echoed the comments of most when he stated, “No matter what you say you WILL alienate a percentage of your stakeholders. I’d much prefer to go on record and double down on our purpose in the wake of a societal crisis than remain silent.”

2) Consistency: Nike’s outstanding campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick won countless awards and witnessed a serious uptick in sales. But, as bold as it was, Nike’s campaign was consistent with its track record (pun intended) of partnering with controversial, outspoken athletes. As a result, the campaign was authentic to the core. Gillette has no such track record and, as the WashPo article indicates, has long profiled macho men in previous campaigns. So, there’s no sense of continuity in my mind. The campaign was a complete 180 for the brand. I think that’s why, when the dust settles, Nike’s post-Kaepernick sales increase will far surpass that of Gillette’s.

3) There but for the grace of god go I. Suppose, just suppose, that Gillette management should be accused of a #MeToo scandal of their own?

That scenario played out in the months following BP’s launch of its “Beyond Petroleum” campaign, extolling their multiple contributions to the environment. Sure enough, a few months later, BP found itself at the epicenter of the Gulf oil spill disaster (and became the butt of endless late night talk show host jokes).

When they said, “think outside the barrel,” I don’t think they meant the Gulf Coast.

I do hope that, in Gillette’s case, HR has done its due diligence to ensure there aren’t any 15 or 20-year-old harassment claims against the current executive team. If such an event were to unfold, it would be beyond catastrophic and underscores the risks a brand takes when it creates it own societal crisis by taking a stand on a societal crisis.

We live in a brave new world littered with myriad societal minefields ranging from illegal immigration and mass school shootings to environmental roll-backs and, yes, #MeToo scandals.

Taking a stand in the immediate aftermath of a societal crisis is the right thing for a purpose-driven organization to do.

It remains to be seen if Gillette’s gamble to create a crisis within a crisis will play out the way they hope.

 

 

Jan 09

What Businesses Should Do Before Taking a Stand on Social Issues

It wasn’t very long ago when staying quiet and avoiding controversy were the tried-and-true PR rules for businesses. But the consumer-company relationship is quickly evolving, along with people’s expectations of companies.

A recent study by Clutch shows that 71% of people expect companies to take a stance on social movements.

Because this expectation is so new, many businesses struggle with what to say and when, always being aware of the risks involved.

Best case scenario? They speak out and their stance resonates with the majority of their consumers, resulting in higher revenue, an elevated brand, and greater awareness for the issue.

Worst case scenario? They speak out and their stance alienates consumers to the point of revenue loss and tarnishes their brand.

Staying silent isn’t safe either. Silence might keep the company out of controversary, but if it’s regarding an issue relevant to the company’s brand, it could hurt the company later on.

“It can be a huge competitive disadvantage to stay silent in the midst of a crisis,” said Steve Cody, CEO of Peppercomm.

This, of course, presents an infinite new list of challenges for businesses to navigate in how and when they’ll respond to social issues.

Here are 3 things businesses should do when deciding whether to respond to a social movement.

Know Your Purpose

 Having a clearly defined corporate purpose can help you navigate this new, challenging landscape.

“Your corporate purpose is your North Star for deciding whether to respond to social movements,” Cody said.

Cody said that having a clearly-defined corporate purpose is a company’s best protection against the unexpected.

“If you know your company, you’ll be better able to determine what to say, what not to say, and what you want to comment on,” Cody said. “It will also help you make sure you’re delivering on that corporate purpose to all of your stakeholders.”

Having a well-defined corporate purpose is key, but how should a company do this?

Involve as Many People as Possible

It is good practice to include as many people as possible in the process of defining (or redefining) your corporate purpose.

“This could be everyone from the receptionist, right up to the CEO,” Cody said. “You also want to check with the key stakeholders to make sure they believe in the values you’re considering including in the purpose.”

This process is often not a quick one. Sometimes, it can take companies years to make sure they define a purpose that is inclusive of every culture represented by its employees and holds true to the promises they make in their marketing campaigns.

This on be easier for smaller companies and very complicated for larger, global companies.

However, companies will find that it pays off to invest the time and resources to making sure their corporate purpose is well-defined and inclusive of those that represent its brand.

Predetermine Which Issues Are Relevant to Your Brand

Nike features Colin Kaepernick in its’ “Just Do It” 30th anniversary campaign. Negative reaction to was predictably swift but in just three days, Nike products began to fly off shelves, leading to a 31 percent increase in sales.

While social crises and issues are often unpredictable, there are things companies can do so they aren’t completely caught off guard when a situation occurs, like identifying in advance which issues are relevant to their brand.

By deciding ahead of time which issues are relevant to your brand and will warrant a response, your company can outline a strategy and draft potential responses.

Knowing which issues are relevant to your brand will also help you determine which are not relevant and warrants silence.

Some company CEOs also rely on the power of precedence, in addition to having a well-defined corporate purpose.

If an event or issue isn’t directly related to the brand’s purpose and if the company doesn’t have a history of commenting on similar issues, usually the company is in the clear to remain silent.

Dedicate Time to Defining Your Corporate Purpose

Silence is no longer always the best PR policy as more people expect companies to find their voice and respond to today’s social issues.

Businesses can mitigate the risks associated with taking stances on social movements and issues by clearly defining their corporate purpose and identifying which social issues and movements align with their brand’s values.