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.

Jun 25

Hey Mets Fans, It’s A.P. Style Guide Day at CitiField

This post is dedicated to Matt “Long-suffering” Purdue.


It comes as no surprise to this blogger that my beloved New York Mets, who find themselves in the midst of an epic June Swoon, also have the least literate fans in Major League Baseball.

According to a new survey undertaken by Grammarly, Mets fans top the Majors in possessing the worst command of the English language. The team also happens to boast the worst offense in the National League, but I don’t believe one is connected to the other.

In reaching their not-so-surprising conclusion, Grammarly experts analyzed 150 reader reviews from the news section of each MLB team’s website (an average of 10,592 words per team).

Like their on-the-field counterparts, Mets fans committed the most errors, making 13.9 per 100 words. Their rants contained misspellings, mixed metaphors and general abuse of the English language.

Surprisingly, the Cleveland Indians, an equally inept franchise, happen to attract the most literate fans in baseball!

Both Chicago teams finished in Grammarly’s top five, as did the Padres and Mariners.

Interestingly enough, the high and mighty New York Yankees don’t attract a high-brow fan base. In fact, the Bronx Bombers’ fans performed almost as badly as their inter-city rivals. Methinks both New York franchises should announce an “A.P. Style Book Giveaway Day” at their respective ballpark (and hand out the venerable spelling and grammar guides to the first 15,000 attendees).

So, will the Mets on-field, or online, performance improve any time soon? Hey, ya gotta believe!

Nov 14

Sandusky, Ohio’s PR challenge

1849658501pLet’s suppose for a moment that your name is Daniel J. Kaman. For the past seven years, you’ve been president of the city commission of Sandusky, Ohio. During that time, you’ve no doubt had to deal with all the things city commissions deal with: taxes, infrastructure, tourism and attracting business to the city. Then, in the waning months of your seven-year term, boom! The earth, the moon and the sky itself suddenly fall on your shoulders. Your city’s name is front and center, day-in and day-out, right smack in the middle of the year’s uber crisis: The Penn State University scandal.

Can you imagine a worse image and reputation challenge? How do you deal with the fact that your city’s name is now synonymous with one of the worst alleged pedophiles in American history? What do you do?

I’d suggest several options for Mr. Kaman and the city commission’s consideration:
-    Ignore the crisis completely. Your terms end on 12/31/11. Let the incoming commission deal with the image and reputation fallout.
-    Call together the best image and branding minds in the city, county and state and brainstorm new and different ways to position the city’s outbound marketing.
-    Change the city’s name. This is a big deal though since, in 2018, Sandusky, Ohio, will mark its 200th anniversary.

I’d opt for the third choice if I were in Mr. Kaman’s shoes. Like it or not, his city’s name creates insurmountable business challenges. To wit:
-    Can you imagine some Mid-West husband shouting upstairs to his wife, “Hey honey, let’s bring the kids to Sandusky this summer!” Just placing the words Sandusky and kids in the same sentence sends shivers up and down this blogger’s spine.
-    Or, how about a CFO and risk manager making this recommendation to their CEO: “Sir, we’ve conducted our due diligence and made our choice. We believe it’s in the best interests of Moed, Moed & Birkhahn to move our corporate offices to Sandusky, Ohio. Yes sir, we’re aware that Jerry Sandusky is the Jack the Ripper of modern times, but we believe the tax breaks and local community environment outweigh the fallout we’d receive from every one of our constituent audiences.”

The city has to change its name. But, they can do so in a smart and strategic way.

I’d counsel Commissioner Kaman to involve Sandusky’s citizens in the name change exercise. Create a microsite that is linked to the city’s website and invite local kids, parents and seniors to contribute names. Or, maybe Kamen is a revenue-driven guy and decides, instead, to approach a technology or Web 2.0 company and offer his city’s naming rights for, say $1 million? Maybe Sandusky, Ohio, becomes Godaddy.com, Ohio? I have to believe those Godaddy types would love this sort of negative buzz.

Whatever he does, I do hope Mr. Kaman does something. The name Sandusky will be forever linked in the minds of Americans to pedophilia, cover-up and disgrace. And, what city wants to have to deal with that albatross when trying to market itself?

Nov 08

The PR Lessons to be learned from Smokin’ Joe Frazier

Aa1f3_06I was saddened to read of the untimely passing of former heavyweight champion Smokin' Joe Frazier.
While I've always adored Frazier's uber nemesis, Muhammad Ali, I also respected Joe. But, while Joe was superbly matched with Ali in the ring, he was hopelessly outclassed by the Louisville Lip in the media world.

I believe there are several lessons every PR professional can learn from Smokin' Joe's mismanagement of the media:
1.) Create a positioning and three key message points and stick to them in each and every interview.
Ali constantly called himself The Greatest and said he was the “smartest, fastest and prettiest heavyweight champion of all time.” A top Edelman media trainer couldn't do better than that.
Joe, on the other hand, said he “…preferred to let his fists do the talking.”
Round one to Ali.
2.) Have a crisis plan in place. Ali constantly belittled Joe, calling him an Oreo cookie, gorilla and Uncle Tom among other things. Joe grimaced, but never responded in kind. Hence, the media and public tended to believe what The Greatest said.
Round two to Ali.
3.) Line up third party ambassadors. I was never quite sure if Howard Cosell made Muhammad Ali, or vice versa. In the final analysis, it doesn't matter because whenever Ali needed an erudite, verbose and outspoken supporter, Cosell had his back. Frazier, on the other hand, never developed a relationship with a reporter who could have advocated on Joe's behalf.
Round three to Ali.
4.) Make nice with the city fathers. Try touring Muhammad Ali's hometown of Louisville and not running into a reminder of The Greatest. Now, try doing the same thing in Joe's hometown of Philadelphia. There's no Joe Frazier Boulevard. No Joe Frazier Hall of Fame. Nothing. In fact, in what may be the ultimate insult, the only statue of a boxer in the City of Brotherly Love celebrates the fictitious Rocky Balboa.
Ali was a savvy marketer from the get go. As a result, Louisville is to Ali as Liverpool is to the Beatles. And, poor Joe is just another forgotten Philly boxer.
Round four to Ali.
4.) Take the high road. Most Americans don't know that Ali savaged Frazier outside the ring, calling him every negative name under the sun. As noted previously, Joe wouldn't (or didn't know how to) respond. But, when Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, Smokin' Joe had a huge image and reputation opportunity. If he had swallowed his pride and reached out to a very ill Ali to say that all was forgiven and forgotten, Joe quite possibly could have re-shaped his legacy. Instead, he stewed in silence and refused to say or do anything.
Fifth and final round to the winner and STILL heavyweight PR champion of all time: Muhammad Ali!
Post script: I actually met Joe Frazier about 15 years ago. His band, Smokin' Joe and the Kittens were playing some dump off the strip in Atlantic City. I spotted him before the show and went right up to introduce myself. He couldn't have been nicer and answered every one of my questions, including those about:
1.) Ali: 'He was maybe the fifth or sixth hardest puncher I ever fought. Chuvalo. Foreman. Bonavena. Those guys were the real punchers."

2.) March 8, 1971: (the night he beat Ali to become heavyweight champion):  “They've taken everything else away, but no one can take that away from me.”
3.) His fabled left hook: “I had a good hook, but this was much bigger and tougher than my hook,” said Joe, pointing to his heart.
If only Joe had shared pearls like that in his prime, things might have turned out differently. Instead, I remember Smokin' Joe Frazier as a great heavyweight in the ring and a true P.R. flyweight outside it.

Nov 07

What did JoPa know and when did he know it?

No one's smiling in Penn State University's Happy Valley today. Long-time assistant coach Jerry Joe-PaternoSandusky has been accused of 40 counts of inappropriate contact with eight young boys, ranging from touching to statutory rape.

If he's found guilty, the Nittany Lions coach may spend the rest of his life in jail. And, two other PSU officials have resigned in the shocking scandal's aftermath.

The really big questions, though, are swirling around legendary PSU coach Joe Paterno (or, JoPa, as he's affectionately known). The winningest football coach in Division One history says he was told about the allegations in 2002 and passed them up the food chain, but that's it. Pretty weak, no?

I think JoPa's in denial. I think the head coach knew about Sandusky's hijinks all along. And, worse, I think he helped cover it up in a Nixonian bid to maintain his power base (clearly, the guy has no interest in ever retiring).

Paterno certainly had the power and motivation to cover-up the scandal if he chose to do so. After all, Sandusky was his top lieutenant for decades.

Regardless of what he did or didn't know, JoPa's legacy will be forever tainted by the Happy Valley scandal.

And, depending upon how aggressive top school officials are in admitting fault and implementing change, the university itself may be likened to a collegiate version of The Vatican. Maybe the school will even take a page out of the Church's play book and blame others for its own sins (i.e. “Sadly, Assistant Coach Sandusky is yet another victim of the sexual liberation that pervaded the 1960s.”).

For the sake of the school's image, if not his own, Coach Paterno needs to come clean and answer two basic, Watergate-inspired questions:

– What did JoPa know?
– And, when did he know it?

His answers will determine whether the sex scandal is an unfortunate footnote to JoPa's legendary career or college coaching's version of Watergate. If the latter proves to be the case, I wonder if David Frost might be interested in a sequel? Nah. 'Frost: Paterno' doesn't have the same panache.

Nov 01

Guiding the guides

I look up to mountain guides. Literally. I've climbed rock, ice and alpine routes all over the world, following the leads of such terrific guides as Art Mooney, Miles & Liz Smart, Mark Chauvin and the incomparable Vern Tejas.

P1030...093So, when Betsy Winter, executive director of the American Mountain Guides Association recently asked me to discuss branding, marketing and crisis communications with the board, I was only too happy to oblige.

While the AMGA prides itself in providing exceptional climbing experiences as the "premier source for training, credentials, resource stewardship and services for U.S. guides and instructors," they face a few image and reputation challenges:

1) The media rarely call for comment, except in the aftermath of a climbing fatality.

2) Individual members rarely plug their AMGA certification or the need for more certified AMGA guides in order to ensure safe climbing.

So, I walked the board (all dressed as if they were ready to lead a nine pitch climb up one of the Gunks' legendary walls, BTW) through a branding and crisis primer this past Sunday afternoon.

I explained that media objectivity has become something of an oxymoron thanks to downsizing, the rise of younger, lower paid, less objective journalists and the voracious appetite of the 24×7, 'if it bleeds, it leads' media beast.

I told them it was their responsibility to shape positive stories and position themselves as thought leaders who could be ongoing sources for such stories as outdoor vacations, fitness, and preserving our remaining wilderness and parks, etc. I told these aggressive, mountain men and women it was time to focus some of that same can-do spirit into generating positive press for the AMGA.

I also walked them through the basics of crisis communications, the importance of admitting fault (if true) and viewing every crisis, no matter how bad, as an opportunity to reinforce the AMGA safety principles (since most accidents occur when climbers attempt foolish routes without a certified AMGA guide to lead them).

West Coast guide Mark Chauvin may have asked the best question of the session when he sighed and said, 'Steve, how do I get the media to stop calling me ONLY after accidents occur and start calling me to talk about the many great aspects of climbing?"

I responded by demonstrating the ways in which to build a story, the critical importance of data and trends, and discussing the media's infatuation with human interest stories. I suggested he lead climbs of interested groups who, perhaps, might be comprised of cancer survivors, the sight challenged or even wounded warriors who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Provide a lazy, local reporter with a neatly tied feature package like that and you'll receive a positive article in return, I promised.

Finally, I answered the board's fundamental question about why so many member guides aren't participating in the AMGA's publicity efforts. I responded by saying: “You've got to answer their ‘What's in it for me?’ question.” When a call comes into AMGA headquarters from a national reporter, I said, suggest he or she also interview one or more of your certified guides. Then merchandise those results back to ALL members. Once they see their peers being quoted in an AMGA feature, member guides will be only too happy to mention the AMGA the next time a local reporter calls them.

And, what did I charge for this advice? Some branded merchandise, of course. And, Betsy Winter obliged by handing over a sweet AMGA-branded climbing jacket. That's when I made my offer to the entire board: “Call me anytime you have a question or find yourself knee deep in a media crisis. I'll be only too happy to help as long as there's some SWAG headed my way.”  Hey, everyone has a price. Even Repman.

Oct 04

Prostate cancer needs a Susan G. Komen

Pink-pimp-3-20102One would have had to be color blind to miss the splashes of pink adorning every NFL player and stadium this past Sunday. The same goes for the bright pink worn by countless walkers, runners and cyclers participating in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month events. And, that is as it should be.

But, did you know that September was National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month? I sure didn't. And, I didn't see one NFL player or stadium sporting light blue, which is the initiative's official color. Nor did I see any walkers, runners or cyclists supporting the cause.

A quick check of Zero: The Project to End Prostate Cancer (insert link) revealed these sobering facts:
– One in eight American women is diagnosed with breast cancer. But, ONE IN SIX American men is diagnosed with prostate cancer.
– Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed disease among men and is the second leading cause of men's cancer.
– 240,000 men contract prostate cancer every year.
– Sixty percent of men who contract prostate cancer are African-Americans.

According to Zero, '…Significantly more federal dollars, more attention and more support are being afforded breast cancer.' They don't say why, but I can hazard a guess: the Susan G. Komen Foundation. It has to be one of the most powerful marketing and fundraising machines of our time. Sadly, though, there is no male version of Komen; no prominent, well-healed victim who can strike a chord and rally a cause.

I think the NFL has bowed to political correctness and wrapped itself in pink for two reasons:

– Perhaps one simply doesn't say no the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

– It's smart marketing. The NFL already has the full attention of every red-blooded American male. By embracing breast cancer, the NFL is doing some very smart target marketing towards women. It's a no brainer.

I should note that, unlike the NFL, Major League Baseball hasn't ignored prostate cancer. Indeed, MLB has declared Father's Day, June 18th, as prostate cancer awareness day.

So, why can't the NFL launch its season with a prostate cancer awareness month and adorn its players and stadiums with light blue wristbands, socks and bunting? There must be a reason. While it's probably not the case, perhaps the Komen folks demanded exclusivity with the NFL?

It's high time the NFL lend a helping hand to its core male audience. It's also clear that prostate cancer desperately needs its own Susan G. Komen to jump start a long overdue need.

 I'd love to help. I'm a big supporter of the Young Survival Coalition and would gladly lend my support to Zero or any other organization that, unlike the NFL, won't turn its back on half the American population. Besides, powder blue has always been my favorite color.


Aug 24

The Browning Nagle of American Presidents

Bush-obamaI was recently musing about the seriously flawed presidency of Barack Obama. 

I remember voting for him with a vengeance after suffering through eight years of his predecessor's utter disregard for constitutional rights and common sense. But, since then, like many others who formed Obama's base, I've grown frustrated by his Kerry-like flip-flopping. 

Also being something of a sports junkie, I began thinking of athletes from football, baseball and yes, even golf (which is a game and not a sport, BTW) whose careers paralleled The One's. But, I didn't stop there. I also thought of jocks whose accomplishments (or, lack thereof) reminded me of Obama's predecessors: W and Slick Willy.

See what you think:

– Obama is the Browning Nagle of American presidents. For those of you who don't recall Nagel, the Jets drafted him from the University of Louisville and immediately anointed him as the 'the next Joe Namath'. Gifted with a canon for a throwing arm but hampered by a brick for a brain, Nagel quickly flamed out after a season or two, and was never heard from again.

In thinking about the past three years, I believe Obama's made nearly as many ‘on-field’ mistakes as Nagel. He's clearly a gifted intellectual, but lacks the spine to make the tough decisions needed of a leader in times of crisis. In my opinion, he'll have to stage a serious fourth quarter rally to win re-election and not end up like Nagel: a forgotten wanna-be.

– W is the Herb Score of American presidents. For those of you who don't recall Score, he entered Major League baseball with a 100 mph fastball and pinpoint control (insert Score's bio). He was literally unstoppable until struck by a line drive that knocked him unconscious and out of baseball for the rest of the season. When he returned, Score was never the same and disappeared from America's pastime within a few years.

Like Score, W enjoyed one of the great rookie seasons in recent memory and was positively Lincolnesque in his immediate post 9/11 statements. But, like Score's line drive to head, something unhinged W's thinking and he set upon an unprecedented course of rack and ruin (i.e. Missing the opportunity to nab bin Laden in the first few months after the Twin Towers attack, using a total lie to justify invading Iraq (WMDs), totally ignoring New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina and, of course, de-regulating Wall Street and setting the stage for the 2008 crash that reverberates to this day). In fact, it's not a stretch to say that no single American president has done more to damage America's international image and reputation than W.

– Bill Clinton is the Tiger Woods of presidents. Since you all know Tiger, I won't recount his off-the-course hijinks. Nor will I call attention to Clinton's infamous “I did not have sex with that woman” statement. Clinton will be remembered as a gifted politician who accomplished tremendous things but whose image is permanently tarnished. The same holds true for Woods. He was a great golfer who allowed his personal putter to ruin his legacy.

So, there you have it. Do you agree with my comparisons? If not, to whom would you liken Obama, W and Slick Willy? I'd like to hear your thoughts. (Note: I'd suggest a follow-up blog offering jock analogies for H.W., Reagan and Carter but, alas, I fear my Millennial audience won't know who those presidents were.)"

Jul 21

Sidewalk in the sky

Chris 'Repman, Jr.’ Cody and I just took a stroll along the “Sidewalk in the Sky.” That's the  nickname mountain guide par excellence Art Mooney (www.mooneymountainguides.com) gives to the Knife's Edge, a 1.1 mile long section of Maine's rugged, 11-mile long, 5,200 ft. tall Mt. Katahdin. DSCN6511ll

The “sidewalk” is treacherous. At points, it's only 18 inches wide with vertical drops of 2,000 feet on either side. One false step and any concerns about clients, new business or the national debt will come to an immediate and eternal end. But, that's precisely what makes the climb so refreshing. One MUST focus on every single step; ergo, one CANNOT think of anything else.

When I return to the office from one of these forays, I feel totally refreshed in a way that more sedentary vacations simply can't match.

Most people think I'm crazy. But, I'm just living my life. In fact, what I do pales in comparison to what such uber, middle-age athletes as Diana Nyad attempt. In case you missed Tuesday's NY Times Science section, the 61-year-old dynamo is about to swim 60 hours in shark infested waters to cover the 103 miles from Cuba to Key West. If she succeeds, Nyad will shatter every existing long distance swimming record.

Here's the coolest part about what Nyad's doing: she's not alone in her pursuit of athletic excellence at an age when most humans curl up on a couch and zone out to the latest episode of 'Glee’. Fifty-two-year old Jeannie Longo is still an elite cyclist. Gordie Howe played ice hockey in his 50s. George Blanda started as an NFL quarterback in his late 40s. And, Jack LaLane was 60 when he swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf (handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000 pound boat. And, they call me crazy).

Nyad says she swims to inspire others.”I hope a couple will say I want to live life like that (at the age of 61)." She added that her parent's generation considered 60 to be old. Not Nyad. "I'm in the middle of middle age.”

I like that line: the middle of middle age. I think I'll use it the next time I take a stroll along the Sidewalk in the Sky.

Jun 29

Golden Years

174857103v1_225x225_FrontI'm 57 today. That's old. It sounds old and it looks old. As a matter of fact, 57 only looks good on  the label of a Heinz's ketchup bottle.

Turning 57 is an actuarial wake-up call. There's no denying that, statistically speaking, I'm much closer to the end than the beginning. But, to add insult to injury, there are lots of other signs that Father Time is breathing down my neck. To wit:

– An attractive young lady in a bar smiles at me, walks up and whispers in my ear, 'Excuse me sir. But is anyone using that stool next to you? We'd like to borrow it." (Note: sir = elderly).
– A friend shows my photo to her friend who responds by saying, “My, he's rather distinguished looking, isn't he?” (Note: distinguished looking = dissipated. Sean Connery is distinguished looking. I do NOT want to be called distinguished looking.).
– An otherwise intelligent intern tells me she's never heard of a DeLorean or the 'Back to the Future' movies. (Note: it's no fun to be surrounded by a whole new generation of employees who are clueless about ANYTHING that occurred before 1990).

That carnage aside, I'm absolutely loving 57. In fact, I think I've crammed more living in the past five years than I had in the previous 52.

'They' say experience is one advantage that comes with aging. But, they rarely mention another less obvious, but more important, value-add: freedom.

I'm now totally free to take risks and try things that would have been unthinkable 10, 20 or even 30 years earlier. They include performing improvisation and stand-up comedy, as well as rock, ice and mountain climbing. Toss in some long-distance cycling, gyrotonic (www.bodyevolution.com) and devising brand new Peppercom service offerings and you'll have an inkling of just how free I feel at such an advanced age.

I've been blessed. But, I've also embraced risk.

In fact, I now understand what David Bowie meant when he sang in 'Golden Years': 'Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere.'

There are two ways to go through life: you take life or life takes you. You're either a driver who take risks and isn't afraid to fail or you're a passenger who blames others when your dreams don't come true.

Whether you're 27, 37, 47 or 57, do yourself a favor and get behind the wheel as soon as possible. You never know. It might just end up being a mint condition DeLorean and you might just end up having the time of your life.

Make the most of your golden years. They'll be over before you know it.