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.

 

Dec 18

9 Tips for Taking a Stand When a Societal Crisis Hits

Social injustice, gender issues, immigration, #MeToo, gun control, and trade wars. These are just a few of the many societal issues about which large and small businesses alike are finding themselves increasingly pressured to stand up and speak out.

We entrepreneurs may think our comparatively small size protects us from the slings and arrows of the hourly news cycle or employees picketing outside company headquarters. But it doesn’t. A Glassdoor survey of 1,000 employees from organizations of all sizes found that 62 percent expect their employers to take a stand on important societal and political issues of the day.

Do I have your attention? I should, since remaining silent or saying the wrong thing could imperil everything from employee recruiting and retention to business continuity and even your exit strategy.

Source: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

My firm, Peppercomm, has interviewed more than 150 chief communications officers in the past 18 months, and assembled the nine best tips for preparing, managing, and monitoring a whole host of issues that should (or soon will) be keeping you up at night.

1. Determine your team
Surround yourself with the very best thinkers in your firm. Include the CFO, CHRO, CLO, and CCO, as well as representatives from your various ESGs. It’s essential the CEO herself be part of the group. Set an initial meeting and then re-group every single succeeding month.

2. Determine your organizational purpose
Many organizations have mission statements, but those are short-term, tactical, and only address “what” a company provides (e.g. “Our goal is to provide the highest quality widget in the world”). A purpose explains why a company exists. For example, Lowe’s included representatives from every region and business unit of their organization before deciding theirs: “To help people love the homes in which they live.” A purpose is critical since it will be your North Star in determining if you will or won’t speak out on societal issues (as well as what you will say).

3. Identify every potential issue or crisis
First examine industry issues critical to your organization’s ongoing success. Then, based on your purpose, extend the list to include your values. Do you believe in inclusion & diversity, protecting the environment, stricter immigration policies, etc.? One major airline from Peppercomm’s survey, for example, identified 72 different societal and industry issues it felt would necessitate taking a stance during a crisis.

4. Examine every facet of your internal and external marketing & communications plan

Will your sponsorship of a right-wing radio pundit’s cable show alienate liberal stakeholder audiences? Would you take a position like Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastion, whose company rescinded fare discounts to NRA members following a mass school shooting? Bastion even doubled down when threatened by Georgia lawmakers to drop a jet-fuel tax break by saying, “Our values are not for sale.” Many organizations have already been caught unaware of the adverse impact a single tweet, outdoor advertisement, or stadium sponsorship might cause.

5. Know your audiences
Nike’s decision to hire former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick to be the face of the campaign celebrating the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” tagline seemed incredibly risky. But Nike knew its audiences. After experiencing a social media frenzy and an initial 3 percent drop in the stock price, the company rebounded and saw its market value increase by $8 billion.

6. Stress test your stand
Assemble the team to simulate a potential crisis such as a just-announced rollback of environmental protection laws, and gauge the reaction to your stance. In many instances, your team will overlook one key stakeholder audience or disagree which is the most important to communicate to first. We recently simulated a societal crisis for a group of 50 members of boards of directors. Two-thirds felt they should communicate first with employees. The other 33 percent chose shareholders.

7. Leverage the appropriate communications channel
One large retailer that had been attacked by President Trump chose not to respond with a tweet of its own. Instead it went to a trusted beat reporter at an industry trade publication who filed an objective, fact-filled story explaining why the company had made the decision it had. POTUS moved on and the crisis dissipated overnight. Sometimes the best response may be a tweet, a town hall meeting with employees, a full-page advertisement in a national print publication, or all three. You’ll never know if you don’t prepare.

8. When in doubt, double down on purpose

I don’t know the organization’s purpose, but I can assure you Edward W. Stack, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, overlooked his purpose and customers’ feelings when announcing the retail giant would no longer sell automatic weapons. The stance shocked and dismayed a wide swath of stakeholders. Sales and the stock price have dropped precipitously.

9. Semper paratus
Heed the motto of the U.S. Coast Guard and remain “Always Ready.” The only way to do so is to continually monitor and adjust (as needed) to every one of the above suggestions.

There are no guard rails in this new societal crisis du jour world of ours. The best protection is protection itself. Trust me, you do not want to read a front page article in The Wall Street Journal that includes an email from every employee demanding you immediately terminate your ICE contracts. By waiting until then, you’ve jeopardized the very survival of your organization.

Dec 17

What if Santa’s database were hacked

In the spirit of the season (and a sad reflection of the times), I’ve allowed myself to briefly escape to an alternate universe and imagine the ultimate Christmas crisis.

What if Santa’s database were hacked?

Let’s assume I’m the hacker and, thanks to a huge assist from a freelance elf named Yuri (a quick tip of the babushka to Yuri), I’ve gained access to the mother of all holiday databases: Santa’s list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

I’d swiftly change a few of Santa’s decisions and create my own.

Here’s who would fill the top three slots on my naughty and nice lists, respectively (as well as the gifts an unsuspecting Santa will be putting in their stockings on Christmas Eve):

NAUGHTY:

1.) POTUS. No surprise here but, hey, the guy’s latest chief of staff has gone on record as calling him “a terrible human being.”

I wouldn’t fill the president’s stocking with coal (he’d misinterpret that as a high five from Kris Kringle for pouring fossil fuels into the atmosphere).

No sir. The Donald will receive an autographed copy of It Takes a Village.

2.) Bill Cosby. What better stocking stuffer for this serial rapist than an eight-year supply of Benadryl and a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves?

3.) BCG, McKinsey and Booz-Allen Hamilton. These three global powerhouses not only refused to withdraw from the infamous “Davos in the Desert” forum in Saudi Arabia, they actually increased their presence by sponsoring every single speaking event.

Santa will fill the stockings of the three shameless CEOs of these firms with one-way tickets to the North Pole. That’ll teach ‘em. #BundleUp

NICE

1.) Pat Ford. I realize this name may not resonate beyond the wild and wacky world of public relations, but Pat Ford is the nicest person in a field that could benefit by his example.

Santa’s stocking stuffer for Pat is a press release announcing the smile emoji has been redesigned to reflect that of Mr. Ford’s.

2.)  Derek Jeter. It pains this lifelong Mets fan and Yankees hater to write this but, even in retirement, Jeter continues to personify the very best qualities I’ve ever witnessed in a celebrity.

Regardless, Jeter’s Christmas morning stuffer will be a retro Tommie Agee jersey from the the 1969 Miracle Mets.

3.) Every single person who has set aside personal political beliefs to help improve someone else’s life.

These selfless individuals’ stocking stuffer will be a signed photo of Santa worded, “Thanks for doing your part to end this insanity.”

Peace on earth and good will to every living creature (and Repman reader).

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.

Nov 16

Ho. Ho. Whoa!

Some organizations throw lavish holiday parties to celebrate the season. Others set aside a full day to help a local charity.

And then there’s a Wisconsin company that is, hold for it, giving every employee a handgun for Christmas.

I do my best to stay apolitical in blogs, but there are so many reasons why CEO Ben Wolfgram (pretty cool name, no? Fits his gift-giving idea like a gun to a holster) really shouldn’t be adding to the proliferation of firearms AND tying it to the season of peace, joy and glad tidings to all.

Wolfgram, whose business, BenShot, sells beer mugs, wine glasses and shot glasses with BULLETS planted into their sides, says he had NO concerns about providing employees with firearms.

“We wanted to give something nice and memorable to our employees,” said Wolfgram (who could be Instagram’s evil twin for all we know). “There were two aspects for us. One was for employee safety, and the other was we wanted something that’s kind of fun and exciting.”

Fun and exciting, eh? I wonder how he’ll top this year’s employee gift when Christmas 2019 rolls around? How about:

– Sidewinder missiles

– Body armor

– Nuclear warheads?

My problem with giving guns to employees includes, but is not limited to:

– The very real possibility a disgruntled employee might use the weapon after receiving an unfavorable review, pay cut or termination.

– The very real possibility an employee brings the gun home, one of the kids stumble across it and, well, you know the rest.

– The very real possibility other pro-gun entrepreneurs will think a 9mm Glock is an awesome holiday present for their employees and play copy cat.

I respect the Second Amendment and certainly understand the passion hunters have for their “sport”, but gifting employees with handguns is akin to waving a red cape in front of a bull. It only takes one of those employees to go off the rails and create a very different type of news story for BenShot. And when that story runs the “shot” will truly hit the fan.

Nov 08

All Things Must Pass

I’ve always likened agencies to baseball managers and football coaches. We are hired to be fired.

Make no mistake. The termination clock starts ticking as soon as the letter of agreement is signed. The relationship may last a month, a year, a decade or, in the case of Ogilvy, 75 years. But it will end.

In Ogilvy’s case, the “Dear Agency” letter came from Ford when the latter decided it was time to seek a divorce from WPP (Ogilvy’s owner).

The reasons for the break-up included: “….Ford’s slumping sales, weak demand in Europe and trade tariffs with China.” Mix that toxic potion with the reality that “….clients are increasingly taking work in-house and using the giant online platforms of Google and Facebook” and you have the perfect storm for any freshly-minted CMO whose most logical first move would be to blame the incumbent agency and hire fresh thinking. It happens all the time.

Simultaneously, Ford is filling 100 new in-house global marketing positions (while Ogilvy probably laid off just as many employees who had worked on the account).

Expanding in-house marketing teams is a trend and Reuters says “….has stripped the big advertising groups of some of their income in recent years.” No question about it.

That’s why I’m so happy to be positioned as a mid-sized firm led by public relations but offering an array of strategic integrated services ranging from web design and employee engagement to societal crisis management and all forms of content creation.

The most vulnerable firms right now are in the digital and advertising spaces. That’s because those service offerings can easily be duplicated by an in-house team.

PR is a relationship-based business in which long-standing personal relationships with influencers, reporters, producers and editors are owned by individuals at the agencies. Those expansive and valuable relationships are difficult to replace.

Even if PR is slightly more strategic and less tactical than its sister disciplines, I know the clock is ticking with every single Peppercomm client (and we have terrific clients at the moment). I know the clock is ticking because I’ve experienced longstanding relationships end in a heartbeat due to:

  • A new CCO or CMO deciding they wanted their own team.
  • A major retailer deciding it made more sense to allocate the PR/social spend to upgrading their IT.
  • A clueless PR manager who believed that “….every relationship has a five-year window before things get old and tired.”

Having seen and experienced it all I totally empathize with the fine people at Ogilvy. And, I also know I need to double down on feeding the new business pipeline at my shop. What’s here today may be gone tomorrow. Or 75 years from tomorrow.

Oct 11

Did you hear the one about the executive assistant we’ll never forget?

The Peppercomm team will be coming together next Thursday night to salute our late, great colleague, Dandy Stevenson. We’ll be holding one of our patented stand-up and improvisational comedy fundraisers in her name. All proceeds will be donated directly to the ASPCA (like me, Dandy had a soft spot for four-legged creatures).

This blogger will be serving as emcee, and seven or eight current and former Peppercommers will be performing seven to eight minute sets. We’ll also be joined by sereval professional comedians as well as Peppercomm’s Chief Comedy Officer Clayton Fletcher.

Having held countless fundraisers in the past I must tell you this one will be very special indeed. I hope you (and your BFFs) can be there to experience it with us.

For information, how to purchase tickets and to reserve your seat, visit the event page here.