May 21

Spot On

Richard Edelman’s Linkedin essay posits powerful and accurate views on the rapidly emerging role of the chief communications officer AND her/his PR counselors in this new, dark era of school shootings, a president who changes his mind more often than the wind shifts direction in Chicago and the disturbing rise of fake news or, False News, as we board members of The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) prefer to call it.

Peppercomm and the IPR are about to release the results of our third, in-depth series of interviews with 25 Fortune 500 CCOs and a smattering of senior marketing executives who direct crisis response for their organizations.

The vast majority have already created, or are in the process of developing brand new “societal” crisis plans that anticipate future events, develop responses pre-approved by the CEO, CHRO and CLO, and scenario plan the expectations and reactions of a public comment from their CEO by everyone from an activist board member and colossal customer to employees and local communities in which the organization maintains a presence.

The corporate communications function is uniquely qualified (and prepared) to guide the C-Suite through the uncharted waters of a highly-divisive, and hugely uncertain, global environment.

It’s no longer acceptable for CEO’s to mimic an ostrich, listen to a lawyer’s advice or hope that, this, too, shall pass. Just ask Kasper Rorsted, the CEO of Adidas, who badly bungled his responses to Kanye West’s lamentable statements about slavery.

I have huge admiration for our peers in digital, data analytics, advertising and other marketing disciples but we, in PR, have ALWAYS fulfilled the role of the corporation’s conscience.

And, the need for smart, carefully-crafted, ethically and morally responsible commentary has never been more important. No offense intended, but marketing types simply don’t possess the DNA to lead the charge.

It’s a great time to be a strategic PR counselor. And, here’s my version of a Richard Edelman plug: Keep your eyes peeled for sneak previews of our CCO research in the days to come.

May 09

Bad Advice

I just returned from the superb PRSA Counselors Academy’s Spring Conference, a MUST attend for ANY PR entrepreneur.

I had the privilege to address the 200 or so attendees on the subject of Fake News which, as my three faithful Repman readers will recall, I addressed in a previous blog.

Anyway, one of the attendees provided the single worst piece of advice re: responding to a Trump attack Tweet I’ve yet to hear.

An obvious POTUS supporter, this particular counselor had the following advice for ANY corporation that finds itself on the receiving end of a mean-spirited, factually incorrect Trump Tweet:

“Love him or hate him, he’s the president. And, what’s the one thing he adores more than anything else? A person or organization that praises one of his initiatives. So, forget about the attack and, instead, find something your organization is doing that aligns with Trump’s agenda and Tweet about that. Guarantee he will love it, re-Tweet it and you’ll gain millions of new followers.”

Wow. That is so far beyond wrong that it redefines the word.

The right way to respond to a Trump attack (which we verified with 25 CCOs in our soon-to-be-released, co-branded research report with IPR) is to gather the facts, reach out to a trusted reporter and allow him or her to publish a balanced article.

That’s exactly what Nordstrom’s did when Trump attacked them for dumping Ivanka’s fashion line.

Nordstrom’s shared their business policy with a trusted reporter who said, in effect, that Nordstrom’s had the right to discontinue any underperforming SKU. And Ivanka’s sales were dismal (despite KellyAnne Conway’s attempt to endorse them on Fox & Friends).

Any corporation that has created its higher purpose should use that purpose to guide its response to any sort of Trump attack or societal crisis.

You should NOT attempt to find something you’re doing that Trump will like. You should follow the lead of Ed Bastian, Delta’s CEO who, in the aftermath of the Parkland High School shootings, severed all ties with the NRA.

When the state of Georgia took away a significant sales tax exemption from Delta, its CEO stood his ground. In a memo to employees, he wrote the now famous rallying cry for taking a stand: Our values are not for sale.

That, my friends, is how best-in-class organizations respond to a Trump attack or societal crisis. They use their corporate purpose as the North Star and leverage it to guide their messaging.

Apr 30

If you like me, you’ll be more willing to believe my outright lie just might happen at some point in the future

A fascinating new study undertaken by an associate professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School has shed new light on why the Trump base simply doesn’t care about his documented lying.

Regardless of your political views, it’s a fascinating, new look at the fake news being disseminated by the West Wing.

In short, the research shows that, for example, Trump’s inauguration did NOT come remotely close to attracting the largest crowd ever. Regardless, the base  were more than content to believe KellyAnne Conway’s comment that it WOULD have been the best attended inauguration if inclement weather hadn’t interfered.

That’s balderdash but, in the minds of the base, it COULD be true. As a result, they give The White House a pass on what Ms. Conway likes to call “alternative facts.”

Check out the article. It explains the phenomenon in far greater detail and makes for a fascinating read: read here.

Two other quick plugs: one for me and one for the Museum of Public Relations:

1.) I have the honor of participating in a panel at the upcoming PRSA Counselors Academy’s Spring Conference. The subject: “Best practices for dealing with fake news.”

2.) Separately, the Museum of Public Relations will be hosting a very interesting discussion on the same subject, entitled: “Truth Decay.”

A distinguished panel that includes two of my BFFs, Pat Ford of Burson Cohn & Wolfe and Tina McCorkindale, president of the Institute for Public Relations, will be addressing the findings of a new report issued by the RAND Corporation.

I will attend and I hope you do as well. As far as my remarks at the Spring Conference, I’m hopeful the attendees will believe what I have to say if for no other reason than they like me. 😎

Apr 25

Bananas Found to Have Caused The Bubonic Plague

I’ll bet that headline stopped you in the midst of your cereal of granola, soy milk and sliced bananas.

It’s completely false, of course, but I predict we’ll be reading a similar headline after the deep-pocketed sports drink industry has had an opportunity to digest a new finding from researchers at the North Carolina Research Center Campus of Appalachian State University in Kannapolis (how’s that for a mouthful? What’s the school nickname? The Polysyllabic Panthers?).

Anyway, school researchers conducted a series of exhaustive studies (are there any other kind?) of cyclists to determine if water, sports drinks or good, old bananas provided the most benefits for athletes after they completed their routes.

The studies were funded by Dole Bananas who naturally, claimed they had had no involvement in “the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.” Sure. And, I never pick up a stray dollar bill when I see one on a street corner.

Anyway, here’s the link to the entire column.

I’ve always been a big fan of bananas after scaling a mountain, completing a century bike ride or putting in an intense hour of heavy weights and floor exercises. They taste great and you can literally feel Your exhausted body slowly reactivate. The sports drinks, on the other hand, taste like slightly better versions of Mountain Dew. And, as you know, they’re chock full of artificial sugars, flavorings and chemicals.

The only downside to the all-natural banana is they may cause bloating which, researchers from the unpronounceable school observed, “…..might dampen some athletes’ enthusiasm.” True, but the same can be said of the Boston Marathon’s infamous Heartbreak Hill.

The beauty of studies that single out multi-billion dollar industries such as sports drinks is they elicit an immediate, pit bull response that mocks the original research, underscores the countless benefits of the products under attack and absolutely pillory the credibility of the original research.

Hence my prediction that GatorAde and the rest will soon be issuing a press release announcing new research (from, hopefully, a more easy to speak and read university, that shouts):

“Bananas Found to Have Been Cause of the Bubonic Plague.’”

Apr 09

This red, red robin isn’t bob bobbing along

I’m not a fan of self-help gurus.

Their modus operandi mirrors the value proposition firms such as Bain, Booz-Allen have peddled for years: They study your problem, tell you what you already know and then charge you a few millions dollars to implement the changes they recommend.

Tony Robbins is the best-known self-help guru. He excels at superimposing a feel-good spin on conventional wisdom and then charging you beaucoup bucks for what you already know you need to do to improve your lot in life. Nice gig, no? Not always.

Recently, Tony blew it big time by NOT listening to a major issue keeping his female flock up at night: the #MeToo movement.

Instead of demanding immediate across-the-board changes Robbins, instead, chastised women for “victimizing” the issue in order to generate publicity and scoop up some quick dollars.

He was wrong. Dead wrong. But, Tony wouldn’t back down.

Just watch this video of a recent Robbins’ rally and watch him use anyone/anything else he could conjure up to defend his misguided thoughts.

As is his wont, Robbins dominated the exchange with the woman in the video who called him out for misunderstanding and undermining #MeToo.

Instead of empathizing with her, he instead obfuscated the discussion, used the loyal audience to support whatever he just said and absolutely REFUSED to apologize for his original comments.

Americans are trying to cope with the seismic issues facing them in a world gone wild. And, sadly, many turn to self-help gurus like Robbins for guidance and reassurance that everything will be just fine.

I’m fine with anyone who derives some sort of confidence and self-assurance from guys like Robbins. But, a guru has to admit fault when a guru is dead wrong. And, Robbins didn’t.

Afterword: I’ve been paying close attention to Robbins in particular for the past year or so because we hired a consultant who not only based his counsel on RobbinsSpeak, but would inadvertently e-mail us advice that still contained the guru’s name on the bottom of the consultant’s “work assignments.” Nothing like ripping off a rip-off artist.

Needless to say, our consultant’s advice routinely missed the mark. But, hey, he was just pulling a Robbins on Robbins (re-circulating recirculated ideas).

Legitimate self-help gurus can provide invaluable counsel. But, those who dismiss a powerful, and legitimate, trend risk alienating their fan following in the blink of an eye. And those who, like our now long-gone consultant, who rip-off content from others deserve a special place in hell.

Come to think of it, listening to self-help Tony Robbins lectures for eternity would certainly qualify as hell in my book.

Mar 27

Sometimes smarter is better than lighter (or stupidity)

Just when I thought yet another tone-deaf advertising agency creative or in-house marketing executive couldn’t possibly produce yet another insensitive, racially-charged TV spot, along comes Heineken to prove me wrong.

If you haven’t seen “Lighter is better” and, odds are you won’t since Heineken yanked it off the air almost immediately, take a gander: Heineken pulls ‘Sometimes lighter is better’ ad after racism claims

Now, take a guess who was morally outraged by the commercial? Bingo! People of color.

Why? Well, because the white bartender in the spot takes careful aim and hurtles a Heineken bottle of beer underneath, around and past bar patrons of color before it reaches its final destination: the hand of an attractive light skinned woman.

These are the types of unexplainable and egregious gaffes that, in 30 seconds, can undo years of community goodwill, corporate social responsibility AND the morale of an entire workforce. Then of course, there will be boycotts from patrons of liquor stores and food markets who will no longer buy Heineken beer at all.

God knows what the eventual impact from a financial and reputational standpoint will be, but I’m betting the internal marketing team was either put on 30-days notice or asked to leave the building faster than a speeding bottle of Heineken.

As far as the ad agency creatives, all I can say is, “Let’s lift a bottle of beer (other than Heineken) in their memory.” The next gig for the entire team will probably be washing dishes in the bar where the commercial was filmed.

Btw, on a related note, I will be joined by JP Laqueur of Brand Foundations on a PRSA webinar at 3pm today to discuss the new types of societal crises facing corporate America (as well as self-inflicted wounds such as Heineken’s).

Here’s the link to today’s webinar: http://apps.prsa.org/Learning/Calendar/display/9155/Reputation_Management_in_a_Polarized_Age#.WrpLY4jwaUn

Mar 21

Drink innovators: bold play or just plain gross?

Today’s guest blog was co-authored by two rising stars at Peppercomm, Courtney Moed and Heather Valle, who not only know everything about PR, but can discuss product innovation from a Millennial’s POV. What better way to ride out a Nor’Easter?

Even if you live under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Unicorn Frappuccino at Starbucks. The trendy, colorful drink took Instagram by storm with over 151,000 posts under the hashtag #unicornfrappuccino. Starbucks saw what a success the unicorn trend was becoming and jumped on the opportunity to turn the frapp into a real product offering with a registered trademark.

While other brands are following the trends, Starbucks is a leader in turning trends into profits. Coffee purveyors and other non-food brands should take note of Starbucks secret to success – well one of them. Sometimes you need to go a little off brand to capture some media buzz.

Check out these brands that are thirsty for some good ole’ creativity:

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While the turquoise and purple concoction is seemingly off brand from Starbucks’s usual crisp, sophisticated look, it’s a way to capture attention away from competing brands. Love or hate the flavor, consumers are abuzz about the chain until their next holiday cup debacle. Similar with Pickle Juice Slushes and Buffalo Lattes, there might be a select few who actually enjoy these, but they are really buzz beverages. Today’s consumer craves experiences and shareable moments. Younger demographics want boomerang spit-takes trying the latest, weirdest flavor, rather than pictures of them sipping basic black coffee.

How can your brand compete with these trendy (and potentially tasty) drinks?

  • Listen to your audience to hear what they’re saying. Find out what’s working for their appetite and what’s missing from your menu.
  • Use FOMO to your advantage. With limited-time offered drinks, customers will feel a sense of urgency to get to the store, so they don’t miss out.
  • Create a hashtag for customers to become a part of the community. Even if they can’t get to the store to purchase the drink themselves, they can social media stalk others who have.
  • Act fast! If it seems Starbucks is five steps ahead, be six steps ahead. Don’t go recreating a crystal ball frapp. Look into your crystal ball to anticipate the next trend and be first to market.
Mar 19

Yesterday’s Mistakes can be Today’s Opportunities

We’re in the final stages of completing an exhaustive, co-branded research report in tandem with The Institute for Public Relations.

The purpose is to more fully understand how CCOs across myriad industries are coping with crisis preparedness and response in this new era of Trump Tweets, Fake News and seemingly innocuous actions finding their way on the front pages of media properties near and far (Think: Snapshat’s ill-conceived pot shot at Rihanna).

I admit though that, aside from #MeToo incidents, I hadn’t given much thought to past organizational mistakes, transgressions and outrages as opportunities to not only right wrongs but double down on an organization’s Purpose and Values.

My enlightenment is due in large part to my longtime friend and associate, Chris Tennyson, who just added a rearview mirror to my fully-equipped crisis HUMVEE.

In his soon to be published book, Tennyson takes a page out of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” writing style of simultaneously placing Billy Pilgrim, the lead character, in the past, present and future.  He does so by citing three superb examples of different organizations who suddenly woke up, realized mistakes made by previous generations and earned well-deserved accolades for fixing what had been broken (and making themselves seem more empathetic and forward-looking than ever).

Here are the examples. Each contains a link that provides additional insight:
1.) Brown-Forman: The company embraced the work of an author/researcher who, on her own, dug into the company archives to discover that a former slave named Dearest Green played a lead role in developing one of B-F’s signature whisky brands.history. Check out the CEO’s comment in the article link: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/15/dining/jack-daniels-whiskey-slave-nearest-green.html 

2.) National Geographic: The iconic travel/adventure journal asked a University of Virginia professor (an expert on Africa and photography) to assess the magazine’s historic coverage of people of color. The report was dismal, if not downright demoralizing.

Rather than bury the past, though, the magazine’s current editor-in-chief dealt with the issue in a totally authentic and transparent way.

NG’s headline read, “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above our Past, We Must Acknowledge It.”

3.) The New York Times included a special section in last Sunday’s edition featuring newly written obituaries of women who deserved recognition at the time of their deaths (but had been overlooked by the Times obit deskmen of the day).

Now, compare the three examples above with the recent track record of Oscar Munoz & United Airlines. By the time he steps down, Munoz will have enough egregious mistakes to write an airline industry version of War and Peace.

As for me, I plan to highlight a few other choice tidbits from the Tennyson manuscript in the days and weeks to come (because they’re that good). And, hey, if someone accuses me of plagiarism, I will simply admit fault and leverage the opportunity to re-position myself as a stand-up guy who is willing to make good on my egregious mistakes of yesteryear.

Mar 01

Delta Does the Right Thing… for the Wrong Reason

Today’s guest blog is authored by Steve Goodwin (BrandFoundations), a longtime friend and strategic partner to Peppercomm…

No one was surprised this past weekend when air carrier Delta joined the growing list of corporations abandoning business relationships with the NRA. The move made sense in light of the white-hot debate that’s gripped the nation in the wake of the horrible and senseless massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

It seemed – at least at first blush – that Delta was taking a purpose-based stand, and that its purpose (or North Star) dictated that the company come down firmly on the opposite side of the NRA on this particular issue.

Cue the applause track for a corporation brave enough to stand on its morals, knowing full well that it’s going to take some incoming flack for doing so.

But don’t hit “play” quite yet.

You see, a closer read of the company’s statement on its decision reveals that, at the end of the day, Delta’s actions weren’t driven by something so noble as “purpose” but rather by a vanilla-esque commitment to what could best be described as “neutrality.” See what you think:

“Delta’s decision reflects the airline’s neutral status in the current national debate over gun control amid recent school shootings. Out of respect for our customers and employees on both sides, Delta has taken this action to refrain from entering this debate and focus on its business. Delta continues to support the 2nd Amendment.

This is not the first time Delta has withdrawn support over a politically and emotionally charged issue. Last year, Delta withdrew its sponsorship of a theater that staged a graphic interpretation of “Julius Caesar” depicting the assassination of President Trump. Delta supports all of its customers but will not support organizations on any side of any highly charged political issue that divides our nation.”

That’s right: Delta’s version of “taking a stand” appears instead to be a thinly veiled calculation of “sitting it out.” And therein lies an ongoing threat to the company’s credibility and brand reputation.

Failing to take a stand based on an agreed-upon set of principles, tenets or desired behaviors leaves Delta walking an extremely thin line as it seeks to offend as few people as possible… which, as we all know, offends the hell out of most people. Look no further than the reaction by Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor threatening to “kill” any tax breaks for Delta in that state unless it re-ups with the NRA. He apparently missed the “on both sides” and “Delta continues to support the 2nd Amendment” parts of the carefully crafted statement. (Rhetorical question: How well did that “on both sides” stance work for the President in the immediate Charlottesville aftermath?)

Delta’s lack of adherence to a defined purpose also puts the company’s leadership in the unenviable – and unsustainable –  position of having to make a series of “judgment calls” every time a new controversial issue emerges.  And in case you haven’t noticed, they’re emerging with increasing frequency and (sadly) severity.

In the J.D. Power 2017 North American Airline Satisfaction Survey, Delta ranked #2 overall. Although the company did the “right thing” in hopping off the sinking S.S. NRA, its inability to come forth with the “right reason” puts those hard-earned gains – and Delta’s brand reputation – at risk.

 

 

Feb 26

Purpose-based decisions

Whether you’re for or against Second Amendment rights and the role of the NRA, you must admit the number of organizations that have severed any, and all, ties with the powerful association is staggering.

While I’m not 100 percent positive, I’d be willing to bet the organizations in question were merely doubling down on their corporate purpose.

Corporate purpose has become increasingly important for organizations large and small since it serves as their North Star and guides any, and all, public stances on the mega issues of the day.

If you haven’t checked out the Arthur W. Page Society’s thinking on the critical role corporate purpose plays in determining messaging in a Trump Tweeting/Fake News world, you should. Just visit www.awpagesociety.com.

But, I digress.

We’re in the process of interviewing 25 CCOs of Fortune 500 companies to better understand how they are handling mega societal crises such as the horrific school shooting in Broward County, Florida.

In each instance, the CCOs pointed to corporate purpose as their North Star. They, and their C-Suite peers, evaluate the severity of the crisis du jour and then, based upon its severity and relevance to the company in question, will take a strong pro or con stance based upon the wording of their corporate purpose.

Remaining silent in the wake of mass shootings, as well as issues ranging from DACA and illegal immigration to opening national parks to private industry and enabling oil companies to begin drilling just a few miles off our coastlines, is no longer an option.

Employees want to know where their company stands. Period.

I salute the organizations who have followed their North Star in disassociating themselves from the NRA, and would send the same high five to those corporations who, based upon their values, have reinforced their commitment to unfettered access to weapons of all kinds.

I may not agree with their choice, but I salute their adherence to corporate purpose.