Jan 03

Dumb and dumber

You would think by now that most business executives would understand the impact, both positive and negative, that their words have on the public consciousness.

During the holidays, though, we saw two food purveyors fall victim to their own words.

One was a local Arizona restaurant called Cup it up. The other was Papa John’s a nationally-known pizza delivery chain.

In the former’s case, the restaurant’s ultra conservative owners decided, for reasons known best to them, to publish their unwavering support of President Trump and a whole litany of conservative causes.

That didn’t sit well with the chef or wait staff. They quit and Tweeted their distaste with the owners’ POV. They also made it clear they’d never work for such an establishments.

Customers were also revolted and not only sent back their orders but absolutely crucified the restaurant on Yelp. Oh, and they also stopped patronizing the eaterie. Bottom-line: Cup it up can cup it out. They’ve shuttered their doors.

At about the same time, John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John’s, resigned in disgust saying he blamed the NFL players taking-a-knee controversy for causing lackluster sales.

Once again, an executive’s comments caused an uproar and, based upon the avalanche of negative press, Schnatter meekly apologized and returned to his post, chastened and shriveled up almost as badly as a three-day-old slice of pizza.

Both organizations could have avoided these disasters IF they had taken the time to create a corporate purpose that explained why they existed, what their higher purpose was and, critically, was in alignment with the majority of the views and beliefs of their employees, customers, vendors and entire supply chain.

A corporate purpose should serve as an organization’s ethical and moral compass that, in times of crisis, can determine the content and tone of any public message. In fact, a carefully thought out “next generation” crisis plan will properly equip any organization of any size to prepare for, and determine the correct response (or non-response) almost immediately.

Please don’t confuse the above-mentioned crisis plan with the one sitting in your bookshelf and created by an agency three or four years back. It’s as out-of-date (and useless) as a Jeb Bush for president bumper sticker.

Organizations, and their agencies, need to act NOW to ready themselves for the new normal, create a corporate purpose (surveys prove corporations with a purpose outperform their rivals and Millennials increasingly won’t work for any company lacking a higher purpose).

With the corporate purpose in place, the communications and strategic planning teams can then meet and assess any, and all, potential vulnerabilities (e.g. Are they ready for a POTUS attack tweet, fake news damaging their brand, industry or societal issues that require to CEO to speak up, looming sexual harassment allegations, etc).

I suspect we’ll see many more examples of Cup it up and Papa John-type incidents this year. Sadly, too many executives still maintain a “can’t happen to me attitude.” Others think corporate purpose doesn’t matter. The worst time to prove that perception wrong is after a political magnus opus is published on a web site or a CEO blames a highly controversial issue for hurting his sales.

It’s time to shake off the post-holiday hangover and get to work preparing for what can’t be anticipated.

Dec 19

First we take Manhattan, then we take Dublin

We recently had the opportunity to play host to a colleague from the Emerald Island: Alan Keane. Alan toils away for Plunkett PR, a superb Dublin-based PR firm. 

Since it was his first opportunity to observe American in the midst of becoming great again, I asked Alan to share his observations. Here goes (and Erin Go Brah to you as well)…..

So, Steve has asked to write a guest post on what I learned from my week in New York.

Happy to oblige Steve, and thanks for the opportunity.

The best pizza in the city can be got at Artichoke Basille’s in the East Village, the best dive bar is Desmond’s at 433 Park Avenue, Chelsea Market offers great lunch options, Shake Shack has the best burg…

(Steve: “Uh… Alan… I meant what you learnt about the differences and similarities between PR in New York and Ireland…”

My bad Steve. The above still stands though. Come at me @AlanKeane23 if you disagree.

Ok, let’s get serious.

I came to New York to meet a selection of the best and brightest in New York PR and gain some valuable insights into how the creative industry works in the Big Apple. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

Ireland has a lot going for it creatively. It’s the land of saints and scholars after all, and, to propagate another stereotype, we have the gift of the gab. Irish people could sell sand in the desert, and this is reflected in the talents of our brightest creative minds.

New York however, operates on another level. Outside of the professional realm, Manhattan is so full to the brim of people from every walk of life that to stand out you need to do something very special. Otherwise you just blend into the crowd. Hence the style smorgasbord that is any given street. You could spend the whole day people watching in New York (not in a creepy, Robin Williams in One Hour Photo kind of way either.)

That translates into the creative arena, as New Yorkers are bombarded from every angle with advertisements, content and products. To stand out you have to do something truly special. It’s a potent environment in which to push the boundaries of creativity and from the brief time I spent with the team at Peppercomm it’s an exciting place to be.

Every day is a different challenge in the realms of the creative and communication industries, and it was interesting to note the similarities between Ireland and New York in that regard. Pushing commercial clients to a sceptical and understaffed media, the time and resource black hole that is responding RFPs, and constantly changing parameters of what is demanded from public relations service providers are just some of the issues facing PR practitioners both sides of the Atlantic.

Stateside media relations was something I was really interested in learning more about during my visit. Ireland is such a parochial place, that you tend to be able to keep track of and develop excellent professional relationships with the media if you’re on your game at all. With such a large spread of media in New York and beyond for communications professionals to wrest with, I was curious as to how media relations could be fostered.

It was something I asked of everyone I met in the industry, and the results are in. The answer is (drum roll please), hard work and a human touch. Something as simple as knowing a particular journalist’s likes and dislikes when it comes to communications (phone or email, for example) can make all the difference. Simple, yes, but when you have countless journalists to keep track of, that’s where the hard work comes in.

Finally, on a personal note, I’d just like to say that although Ireland is known as the land of a thousand welcomes, (Cead Mile Failte is a greeting in Irish that literally translates to “a thousand welcomes”) New Yorkers give us a run for our money. The misconception that New York is an unfriendly and cold city seems unfair to me, as everyone I met during my time there went out of their way to be of assistance and make me feel welcome. Thank you to everyone in Peppercomm, particularly Steve, Deb and all the team who made time to talk to me and discuss the industry. Thanks also to the impressive Rob Longert of Day One and Bill Daddi of Daddi Brand Communications whose insights gave me plenty of food for thought returning home.

Happy Holidays folks.

Dec 05

Reports of PR’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

If I had a dollar for every time I’m asked if PR is dead, I’d be richer than the Koch brothers.

The answer is NO; not by a long shot.

Here’s why: The world changed after Donald Trump became president, Fake News infiltrated everyone’s in-box and mega societal events began happening on a daily basis.

All of a sudden, digital advertising or a new website or a customer experience audit or data crunching didn’t quite seem so urgent.

Companies found themselves front and center having to deal with either a positive or negative POTUS tweet, a policy decision such as curtailing immigration from Middle Eastern countries, mass shootings, white supremacist torch light parades, NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem and so on and so forth.

Employees expected their CEOs to address the issues and explain the company’s position. GlassDoor conducted a fascinating survey this past spring of hundreds of American workers. The results showed that staying quiet in the midst of, or in the immediate aftermath, was no longer acceptable to them. They wanted their CEOs to speak up. And they, too, wanted permission to publish their views on their private channels.

Suddenly the CCO and her top PR counselors rose to the very top of every CEO’s list.

The stakes were enormous: say the wrong thing and the company stock price might plummet. Remain neutral and sales could dip. Even saying the right thing would inevitably alienate some percentage of the company’s audience.

The very best CCOs immediately rose to the challenge and began scenario planning, evaluating their vulnerabilities as well as anticipating what their CEO’s response should be. They also took the lead in deciding which “channel” was the most appropriate venue to air their POV. Many chose Twitter. Others went to trusted beat reporters to correct erroneous charges.

The CCO also became THE steward of the C-Suite, making sure that immediate post-crisis messaging was aligned with their peers in HR, sales, investor relations and other disciplines. And they worked diligently with their in-house counsel to create “generic” responses to multiple potential vulnerabilities and had them approved in advance. That enabled the CCO to immediately craft the CEO’s statement and not worry about the legal implications.

I have enormous respect for our marketing peers and, with the walls crashing down all around us, fully embrace integrated marketing communications.

But, when split-second commentary needs to be crafted after, say, a Charlottesville incident, the other disciplines are simply lost at sea.

PR has long served as the moral and ethical compass of the organization. The function has also taken the lead in crafting an organization’s corporate purpose. That, in turn, has become the North Star in terms of saying exactly the right thing in the right tone and through the right channel.

Is PR dead? To quote Mark Twain who, after hearing that newspapers were printing his obituary said, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

The same holds true for PR.

Nov 29

We have met the enemy and he is us

It goes without saying that almost every single marketing communications crisis rule no longer applies in our Post-Trump/Fake News era.

CCOs and CMOS everywhere are scrambling to figure out if, and when, to respond to an angry @POTUS Tweet, a barrage of fake news damaging the brand, the cascade of sexual harassment suits that not only destroy the careers of Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose and countless others, but have a HUGE negative impact on the organizations for whom they work (and on and on and on).

As it turns out, we have no one to blame for the 24×7 tumult but ourselves. To put it bluntly: We’re a nation of dullards.

Timothy Egan penned an amazing opinion piece in The New York Times that said, among other things:

  • Nearly one in three Americans cannot name a SINGLE branch of government
  • 97 percent of immigrants who take the U.S. citizenship test pass it. But, one in three American citizens FAIL the test.

And, make no mistake, the dullards are not attempting to join MENSA. Instead, they’re unable to answer such rudimentary questions as:

  • What major event happened on 9/11?
  • What ocean is on the West Coast of the United States?

Even worse, by a 48 to 38 percentage, Americans think states’ rights and not slavery caused the Civil War. Holy utter ignorance, Batman!

In his essay, Egan places the blame squarely on our public school system which, as most would agree, is in shambles. I agree, but I’d also blame the lackadaisical adults who have raised so many citizens who know so little about their country.

This is beyond scary because it not only fans the flames of the uniformed believing fake news, it augers very, very poorly for the future global competitiveness of our nation.

Egan’s optimistic since a dozen states now require high school students to pass the immigrant citizenship test. But, hey, that still leaves 38 others that are graduating students who have not read and don’t understand our Constitution, Declaration of Independence and basic historical facts about the past.

I wish I had an answer, but I think the long-ago cartoon character Pogo said it best when he opined, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Nov 16

The Data Science Behind the Dating Scene

Today’s guest blog was authored by Jason Baik, Senior Manager on the Analytics team at Peppercomm…

Most people associate “analytics” with simple tables and graphs without really understanding the true power of data. I’m here to break that stereotype.

Before I get into the details, a bit of background is required. My name is Jason, a professional analyst and a true data advocate; I analyze everything from conducting non-hierarchical clustering for my fantasy football drafting to predictive price modeling for my bitcoin gambling. You name it and I probably have a personal spreadsheet of it.

When I was freshly single in the summer of 2016, I decided to follow in the footsteps of journalist Amy Webb and put my love of analytics behind my pursuit of love: data behind my dating life. I started by crafting profiles across various dating apps and meticulously tracked everything, from opening lines and response times to respondent ethnicities and hobbies. I was ready to prove that love was a quantifiable game…

By the twelfth day, I was frustrated by my lack of progress. My response rates were improving but my problem lied in the candidates themselves… the first few dates had been entertaining but no one stood out enough for a second meet. Even worse, there was no apparent correlation between any of my variables and my enjoyment of an experience. As day fifteen rolled around, I decided to add a qualitative layer to the mix. I calculated personality scores based on profile keywords and developed an attraction index. My daily response rate stayed about the same but my enjoyment of the dates soared!

I wanted more. During month two, I decided to increase the stakes by adding what I’ll coin as my radical honesty test. I would ask a series of ‘controversial’ questions throughout the course of conversation and gauge response lag, initial eye movements, and facial reactions. Some of my questions included: 1) number of ex-boyfriends, 2) reasons for termination of latest relationship, 3) current salary level, 4) political views, and 5) criminal history. I hardly cared about the answers as I only met the women who passed my screening process – I already knew they were decent human beings. I was more intrigued by how each would respond in an unorthodox situation.

On the one hand, I got to meet some genuinely amazing women. I soon discovered, though, that regardless of most people’s claims to appreciate ‘honesty’ not many people truly did… or at least not in the way I defined it. Even these highly curated individuals became awkward or disinterested as I asked my questions and some of them blatantly lied. To my dismay, my radical honesty test remained pass-proof…

Lucky for me, my story doesn’t end there. Six months into my amorous adventure, as I was on the cusp of giving up on ‘happily ever after’, I met the most wonderful woman… ironically, outside of online dating. I was at a board game night with high school buddies when a friend of a friend appeared on a whim based on a last-minute invite. To disillusion the romantics, this woman and I barely spoke during game night… but coincidental parking led to the exchanging of numbers and an eventual first date.

During my first meeting with – from here on out, I’ll call her Grace… and I say that facetiously because that’s her actual name – I decided to enact my honesty test but with a twist. Instead of asking my typical questions, I decided to up the ante and start with my own confessions. Unfortunately for me, what started as an attempt to spice up my experiment ended with me telling Grace literally every secret that I housed: every library book I had failed to return on time, every plastic can I had failed to recycle… it was all laid out for her on our (I will stress again) first date.

She, in turn, laughed at most of what I said… and calmly elaborated on her own shameful history. That was ten blissful months ago.

I understand, first hand, that in a world where the client deadlines get cut as often as the budgets, analytics will forever be seen as a mere dashboard or an Excel template. With that said, my best contribution to this wonderful field comes in the form of a friendly reminder: some of life’s greatest answers are derived using analyses. The next time you’re going about your daily routine, even if you aren’t an “analyst”, try putting some data behind a situation. While I can’t promise you a Nobel Prize-winning revelation every time… once in a while you may, like me, make a life-changing discovery.

***

More about Jason:

Jason is a Senior Manager on the Analytics team where he leverages data to solve client problems. Prior to joining Peppercomm, Jason worked at several digital advertising agencies and crafted measurement strategies spanning social, programmatic, search, email, and mobile campaigns. Jason is originally from Princeton, New Jersey and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Northwestern University.

Find Jason on LinkedIn here.

Nov 14

Why Corporate Leaders Must Join the National Conversation

Today’s guest blog was authored by Lauren Parker of Peppercomm…

“Where is the corporate Kapernick?”

Ariel Investments CEO Melody Hobson posed this question to a room full of CEOs during her presentation about diversity and inclusion in the board room. It’s one example reflective of our evolving cultural landscape and the impact it’s having on corporate America.

Politics divide Americans on issues from gun control to tax reform. Women are standing up against systemic misogyny. The topic of racial inequality has moved out of the shadows and onto our national football fields. Every morning, we awake to new headlines that amplify these important national conversations.

Technology has changed the way we consume and amplify news and opinion. It’s given people the opportunity to shout their points of view and it’s led to the expectation that everyone should have an opinion to share – including corporate leaders. Social media has provided a direct line of access to those executives.

People want to know where corporate leadership stands on issues most important to them because people want to buy from, work for, and invest in companies that align with their values. In fact, 47% of millennials believe corporate CEOs have a responsibility to speak up about important social issues, and 51% are more likely to buy from a company led by an activist CEO (KRC Research). Moreover, 62% of employees of all ages expect their employer to take a stand on major issues of the day (Glassdoor).

CEOs can no longer hide in their corner office. They are expected to be the face of their corporate values. For some, this is a natural role to play. Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, is one of the few corporate executives standing up to President Trump and the GOP tax plan. At the recent New York Times DealBook Conference, Schultz said, “I don’t believe that corporate America needs a 20% tax cut. The tax cut is not going to create a level playing field and more compassionate society.” Schultz took a dissenting position compared to many of his peers, but successfully connected his stance to the company’s core values, which resonates with many coffee-loving consumers.

Other executives have struggled in the spotlight. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has taken heat after sending conflicting messages about his support for Trump and subsequent decision to leave the president’s manufacturing council. The brand took another hit when it initially came out in full support of the NFL players, then deleted the tweet and replaced it with a more generic statement. Brand spokespeople including Misty Copeland and Steph Curry publically denounced the brand claiming it “stands for nothing.”

Companies have had to respond to fake news about their business; backlash over ad buys on controversial programs; and even direct confrontation from our president. Brands can no longer attempt to be all things to all people. At the same time, they can’t afford to simply stay silent. So how can companies navigate this new set of challenges and keep its reputation intact?

  • Define Your Mission and Values: Have a clear definition of your company’s mission and values and communicate them clearly and regularly across its communication channels (not just in times of crisis). Use these as your North Star when determining when and how to speak out a challenging issue.
  • Check the Company You Keep: Recognize the importance of building a supply chain with partners who have similar corporate values. If their reputation slips, you’ll want to avoid being dragged down with them.
  • Know Who You Serve: Deeply understand your target audiences and what motivates them. Use that knowledge to connect on issues of shared importance.
  • Dust off Your Crisis Playbook: A basic crisis communications plan will no longer cut it. You need a sophisticated protocol for assessing potential reputational threats and getting the right message to the right people at the right time.
  • Speak to Your Values: You don’t have to take a formal stand any time a new issue hits the national zeitgeist. Speak authentically on the issues that directly connect to your core values and allow you to reinforce your company’s purpose.

In today’s polarized environment, it’s impossible to appease everyone but it’s even riskier to stay on the sidelines. Are you prepared to stand for something?

***

Find Lauren on Twitter at @ImLaurenParker.

Nov 07

The clock is ticking

Check out this fascinating Advertising Age interview of Facebook marketing guru Andrew Keller. While Keller expounds on any number of topics in the piece, he hones in specifically on the rise of the term “six seconds” in advertising.

While the Facebook executive, and his fellow advertisers, are fixated on six seconds, research shows the average human actually has an attention span of eight whole seconds. That’s one second less than a goldfish.

But, the six (or eight) second discussion should extend far beyond Keller’s focus on digital advertising and videos.

Split second responses are table stakes in ALL forms of communications today.

In the new normal of Trump Tweets, fake news and Kevin Spacey/Harvey Weinstein-type transgressions, individuals and organizations have about eight seconds to gather their thoughts and determine:

  • What will they say?
  • Will they say anything at all?
  • What criteria determine whether a response is warranted?
  • Who should make the statement?
  • What channel would make the most sense?

Here are two very quick cases in point. One is a worst practice; the other a best:

  • UnderArmour completely blew the NFL player-kneeling controversy by first Tweeting the firm’s commitment to diversity & inclusiveness. Then, when right-wing customers expressed their disapproval, UnderArmour Tweeted a revised comment that included “..and show respect for our flag.” In doing so, UnderArmour created a whole new news cycle that, ironically, unified outraged right and left-wing followers who agreed on one thing: the brand was speaking out of both sides of its mouth.
  • @POTUS recently attacked General Motors in one of his 3am Tweets. Rather than respond with a Tweet correcting the president’s erroneous charges, Ray Dey, GM’s CCO decided, instead, to share the facts with trusted beat reporters who routinely covered the car company. Once their articles were published, Trump didn’t have a leg to stand on and quickly moved on to attack someone else.

The point is this: While no brand should be expected to respond in eight seconds or less, every organization should prepare now for what cannot be anticipated, and create new protocols for the new normal.

Getting back to digital advertising and marketing content of all types and forms, I completely agree with Keller. Organizations have six (or eight, depending upon the target audience’s attention span) seconds to engage, connect and begin the process of consideration. The day of long-form storytelling is dead.

Split second communications is the currency of the realm, now and for the future.

Oct 26

Talk about a wunderkind

Note to readers: This is the second, and final, blog reviewing Harold Burson’s new book, “The Business of Persuasion” (available through Rosetta Books)….

But, after reading what Burson-Marsteller Founder Harold Burson had achieved at the same age, I must say I was beyond humbled (a unique experience to be sure).

Consider the following (taken directly from his autobiography):

  •  He became a stringer for the Memphis Commercial Appeal as a sophomore in high school.
  •  He filed reports on University of Mississippi football for the Commercial Appeal while a college sophomore.
  •  While still in college, he provided public relations counsel to D.H. Ferguson, which was helping to build the atomic bomb.
  •  After WW II began, he filed nightly written reports for all U.S. officers serving in Europe.
  •  At the age of 24, he covered the Nuremberg trials for the American News Network.

His accomplishments are mind-numbing to say the least, but Burson provides key advice for any high school or college student hoping to achieve at least a modicum of his success:

First, he proffers these tips for succeeding in PR:

  •  Content is still king. Train yourself to be a good writer, avail yourself of writing labs and tutors, seek feedback on your writing and your future will be assured.
  • As the volume of texting grows, the quality of writing declines. Do yourself a favor and take as many writing courses as you can cram into your schedule.

He next provides advice for succeeding early in life:

  • Volunteer to do the jobs no one else wants to, and to the extent possible, inform people of the importance of your service to the company.
  • Take calculated risks early in your career, risks that will hasten your trek to the objective you have set for yourself.
  • Suggest new ways of approaching problems as ideas come to you. Just because more experienced people reject them outright does not mean they are bad ideas. They may be ahead of their time or lead to alternative and timelier ideas.

Finally, Burson’s takeaways from his career in the military include:

  •  Those who have the willingness and the discipline to do the grunt work will work their way up in business.
  •  Prepare yourself to adapt to ever-changing situations such as different bosses, unusual assignments or difficult colleagues.
  •  Some assignments call for a high degree of integrity. What you say and do will either earn you the trust of others or lose it.

Stay tuned for part three tomorrow and, oh, btw Mr. Burson: Where were you when I was 24?

Oct 25

Sports as a Part of our Society: Chat with Dr. Baseball (Part 2)

Game 1 of the World Series is in the books, and Dr. Baseball’s prediction is already looking bleak! Check out Part 2 of our conversation with Dr. Wayne McDonnell, Academic Chair of Sports Management at NYU – where we talk about diversity issues in baseball and sports amid the backdrop of the NFL National Anthem controversy. Plus we talk MLB in South Beach, hitting against the defensive shift, and of course, Steve has to find a way to drop in a Mets question…