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.

Jan 04

“Success has a thousand fathers while failure is an orphan.”

While it’s a day late and a dollar short, I’m pleased to share this infographic with you.

Created in partnership with BrandFoundations, our longtime strategic marketing partner, the list below analyzed the best and worst managed societal crises of the past year

Note: We define a societal crisis as anything ranging from a mass school shooting and the Southern border chaos to trade wars and environmental rollouts. We’ve also included #MeToo crises and self-inflicted wounds. Traditional crises such as product recalls, financial malfeasance and price fixing were not included in the analysis.

As you will see from the infographic, we chose to grade the organizations based on three criteria:

– Speed: How quickly did the organization take a stand on a societal crisis that either aligned with, or was the polar opposite of, their values?

– Strength: Was the stand taken by the organization unequivocal, or could it be interpreted in different ways by different stakeholders?

– Purpose: Did the statement double down on the organization’s stated higher purpose?

Hope you enjoy the graphic. Would love to hear your POV on our POV.

 

Nov 28

Mega problems for mega industries

I never thought I’d be writing a blog that included the NFL and Big Tobacco at the same time but, hey, social media makes for strange bedfellows.

Both obscenely rich businesses find themselves in a world of hurt due to denial, deception and delay.  

Let’s kick-off with the NFL.

Did you know there are 72,000 FEWER high school students playing the sport today than just four years ago? Would you believe that outdoor track has overtaken football as the most popular high school sport?

Somewhere Jesse Owens must be smiling.

The reason why is obvious. Parents simply won’t let their sons play the vicious sport which, despite a few superficial changes to the rules by the NCAA and NFL, remains the ultimate end zone for players suffering from CTE and other debilitating brain injuries.

By the way, here’s an interesting stat that was buried in the articles I read about the slow, but steady, death of high school football: The number of girls in 11-player high school football has nearly DOUBLED in the same time frame!

The rate at which football is losing future generations of players is so acute the game may disappear completely by the year 2050 (Note: I hope the Jets can win another Super Bowl before the Lombardi Trophy ends up being sold for scrap).

Enough with football.

Let’s turn to an even deadlier pastime: smoking.

Recently the Food and Drug Administration finally stepped in to restrict all flavored e-cigarettes (also known as vapes) and is in the process of banning menthol cigarettes.  

And high schoolers are once again at the heart (and, sadly, lungs) of the controversy.

The FDA’s move was driven by a just-released study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing a 78 percent increase in vaping by high school students, with 3.6 million high school and middle school students now using e-cigarettes.

Try inhaling this statistic: current e-cigarette use among high school students increased from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 20.8 percent this year! Holy smoke!

In addition to cracking down on vaping, the FDA plans to ban menthol in ALL combustible cigarettes and cigars which it says is a gateway sweetener used to entrap otherwise unsuspecting teens into  a lifelong nicotine addiction.

The NAACP welcomed the ban, saying: “For decades, data have shown that the tobacco industry has successfully and intentionally marketed mentholated cigarettes to African-Americans and particularly African-American women.”

Not surprisingly, Big Tobacco is in complete denial. An Altria spokesperson said, “We continue to believe that a total ban on menthol cigarettes or flavored cigars would be an extreme measure not supported by the science and evidence.” Unreal.

The NFL and Big Tobacco can continue to deny their products lead to serious illness and death but time is slowly running out on each (at least in this country).

I can’t speak for football’s prospects in other continents, but tobacco will continue to thrive in those areas where poorly educated people of all ages are oblivious to its dangers and highly susceptible to glossy advertising.

If Big Tobacco was the name of an NFL player I’d ban him for life (for the sake of millions of future lives).

Nov 27

How Does a Beloved Brand Apologize to Billions?

Today’s guest blog is authored by Melissa Vigue who suggests a few things Dolce & Gabbana might consider doing if they ever want to sell another product in China….

This weekend, we observed as one the world’s iconic luxury brands took a lashing following a huge cultural misstep in China.

ICYMI, Dolce & Gabbana released eating with chopsticks, a series of videos, in the lead up to what was billed as one on China’s biggest fashion events ever, expected to draw not only the fashion elite but China’s most revered cultural icons.

In an effort to grab attention by being humorous (?), the brand and its patriarchs have deeply offended those of Chinese descent worldwide and the rest of us who don’t think using race or cultural practices as fodder for marketing is acceptable. The situation was further exacerbated by supposedly racist Instagram posts by Gabanna. He and the company have since said his account was hacked but the excuse rings hollow to this communicator.

The issue at hand today is how damaged is D&G’s reputation and can they win back the hearts of the market that buys more than 30% of the world’s luxury goods to shore up its bottom line? In the case of D&G, this goes far beyond perception and has immediately impacted the brand’s value with retailers and e-commerce sites dumping thousands of SKUs and multiple brand spokespeople vocally jumping ship.

The outcry began immediately and was not muted by the founders’ somewhat unusual yet well-intentioned video apology. The brand was forced to postpone its major fashion show in Shanghai, dubbed the country’s “biggest fashion gathering of its kind” amid models and guests announcing a boycott of the event.

The reasons for this swift response are twofold:

  • This isn’t the first time D&G has poked the bear. Last year, the brand released DG Loves China, a campaign depicting D&G clad models alongside what the culture viewed as “low class” and “old” China. The perception was that it was intentional behavior by a western brand looking to minimize China’s reputation and growth as a global power.
  • The pride in country, as indicated by this quote, is strong in China and cannot be understated. “The motherland is above everything,” stated D&G’s China ambassador and singer Karry Wang Junkai while renouncing the campaign and her relationship with the brand. What’s most fascinating is the fact that China is known for the use of stereotypical and sometimes downright racist depictions in its own material.

With this debacle fresh in our minds, we wanted to share a couple of parting thoughts for brands when architecting campaigns outside their home country:

  • Don’t rely on the creative “genius” behind the brand for what will resonate globally and culturally. It can gravely impact your brand value.
  • Learn A LOT about the markets you are entering and always socialize input from cultural experts.

It remains to be seen if this iconic fashion house’s rep can be repaired in the eyes of the market that makes up over 30% of the world’s luxury good sales but you can be sure we’ll be watching.

Sep 07

How do you judge success?

Today’s oh-so-timely guest blog is authored by Laura West, Peppercomm’s Head of Analytics. Btw, we’d love to know your take on the Nike campaign, so comment at will…

There are any number of ways to evaluate Nike’s Kaepernick campaign. Some call it: “shrewd.” Others say it’s “a bold statement.” The president called it “a terrible message.” Pundits say it’s “a calculated risk.”

Is Nike’s ad a success? What do the facts say? There is always a friendly bit of data pointing at an answer we may like, no matter our political/social opinions:

  • Fact: The President of the United States has denounced Nike’s ad
  • Also fact: Lebron James has lauded it
  • Fact: #NikeBoycott was trending on Twitter on Tuesday
  • Also fact: #Nike and #JustDoIt were trending on Wednesday

As most people in the industry have come to appreciate, it is not an isolated bit of data that leads to true insight. It is contextualized data; not “there were this many mentions” but “there were this many positive/negative mentions.” And not “someone denounced the company” but “X influencer or X% of the target audience denounced the company.” The context is determined by the prioritized goals.

Is the most valuable metric sales? If so, the ad may have been a bad decision (since Morning Consult reports that purchasing consideration is down). Is the most valuable metric the amount of buzz generated? In this case, the move was an unquestionable success (generating more than $43 million worth of media exposure according to Bloomberg).

Morning Consult reported that Nike’s favorability has dropped by double digits since the campaign announcement. However, if Nike cares most about what certain athletes think of the company’s move, then favorability among more general audiences may not be the most important data point, since success would be measured according to this elite audience’s reaction.

So, how would you measure success?

 

Sep 04

23

It’s hard to believe that Peppercomm began its improbable rise to fame and fortune 23 years ago today.

I say improbable because there was no reason to expect success. After all, why would yet another start-up in the highly competitive PR firmament succeed?

The answer? Our name.

I decided to name the firm in honor of my late black lab, Pepper.

The name turned out to be a godsend.

It was at that precise moment in time the dotcom boom was in overdrive. Venture capitalists were pouring billions of dollars into dotcoms with any semblance of a business plan (as well as many that did not).

The phone began ringing off the hook. Why? Because dotcoms mistakenly thought Peppercom (there was only one M in those days) was a dotcom specialist. We weren’t.

But we hired tech PR specialists faster than you can say IPO and, by 1998, O’Dwyer’s had TWICE named us the fastest growing PR firm in the country (which isn’t that impressive when one considers we started with no billings whatsoever. But, still….).

Our firm shot through the PR firmament like Halley’s Comet. And then, just as suddenly as it had all started, the dotcom bubble burst.

One $35,000 per month dotcom client after another either declared bankruptcy, stopped all work or, in the case of a true dotcom wanna-be called iFrame, took us to court demanding a refund (we won).

Thankfully, we had managed to attract, and win, blue chip clients such as Steelcase and GE (the latter courtesy of The 10 Company’s Valerie Di Maria. Thanks for your Peppercomm service, Val).

And my superb partners took it from there.

Fast-forward to today and tomorrow.

Peppercomm’s success has always been fueled by innovative products and services (some of which exceeded beyond my wildest dreams while others withered and died on the vine).

We’ll be building on a 23-year record of innovation by introducing a first-of-its-kind “societal crisis” offering next week.

Called StandSmart (sm), the service will provide CCOs, CMOs, CHROs, CEOs and boards of directors with:

– A predictive, data analytics tool that helps our clients anticipate relevant industry and societal crises as they initially bubble up (Think: NRA, NFL or NAFTA;  Internet privacy, phishing and prevarication; trade and Twitter wars to name just a few).

– An overlay to any organization’s existing crisis response/management plan that leverages the company’s higher purpose to respond quickly and accurately to any news, false or otherwise. Google’s response to last week’s POTUS attack is a superb example.

– Sitting down with the client and her team to identify each, and every, issue that is relevant to the organization and preparing responses in advance, and in cooperation with the in-house general counsel and CEO.

StandSmart is the logical next step for an iconoclastic agency named in honor of an iconoclastic canine.

Here’s to the next 23 years.

#Woof

Aug 29

Google “Trapped Animal”

Today’s guest blog is authored by Steve Goodwin, a principal at Brand Foundations, a strategic branding & purpose partner of Peppercomm’s. Enjoy…..

Yet again this week, we’re reminded that a trapped, wounded animal is dangerous. Like an orange pain-riddled bear with his leg hopelessly caught in a snare trap, President Trump lashed out at Google, accusing the search giant of baking the results in favor of liberal media outlets so that a search of “Trump news” always returns negative stories. [An aside: I’d offer the president the same gentle advice I’ve been giving to clients for years: “Uh… you have more control over this than you may think.”] As is far too often the case, the president’s info started as a discredited story being peddled on Fox before it made its way into his never-used-a-computer brain and out his tiny tweeting fingers.

Google, to its credit, responded with a statement within what appeared to be minutes of the nastygram. That statement leads with purpose: “When users type queries into the Google Search bar, our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds.” Bam! Pure “north star” stuff that:

  • was clearly the result of a thoughtful process;
  • was 100% on-brand as a result; and
  • enabled a speedy response because Google’s comms team had it at the ready: they didn’t need to create a one-off statement in a panic and then run it up the chain in a frenzied attempt to get agreement on a final version by the end of the day’s news cycle.

It was also a powerful opener and a perfect springboard for the rest of the statement, which went on to refute the president’s charge in greater detail. The statement wouldn’t have been nearly so strong had the order been reversed.

Of course, Trump vows to “look into” the matter, ensuring the story will stay in the news for a bit… as does the fact that the leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter are slated to appear before a Congressional committee next week to talk about censorship and election interference.

Like the trapped bear striking out in fear at what it can’t comprehend, Trump’s howling at the tech world at least proves that there is no industry he won’t go after. No matter how big, deep-pocketed or popular, no company is safe. And the fact of the matter is that in our current fractured climate of tribalism and corporate reckoning, threats to an organization’s brand and reputation can come from any direction at any time… not just from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave or Mar-a-Lago during yet another fitful night.

That’s why smart organizations that play on the national stage are well-advised to proactively undertake a process that identifies, assesses and monitors for enterprise-wide reputational risks and guides the creation of purpose-driven plans and content that allow for taking a reasoned, rational and rapid stand… one that rises above the level of the incoming attacks.

Funny I should mention it, because that’s exactly what StandSmartSM – a new in-the-works joint offering from Peppercomm and BrandFoundations – is designed to deliver. Stay tuned for details (but reach out now if you want a preview).

With trapped animals as with trapped presidents, the only predictable thing is their unpredictability. And as Google and countless other companies have learned, you don’t need to pick a fight in order to find yourself in one. Stand ready. Stand strong. Stand smart.