May 30

How does it feel?

download (1)There’s nothing like watching multiple, ongoing crises unfold to make PR bloggers happy. For us it’s like winning the Triple Crown.

First, there was Donald Sterling. Then there was GM. Now, we have the V. A. hospitals’ delays. And, each crisis has multiple, never-ending news cycles. That’s manna for reporters and Repman types alike.

In each of the three crisis cases, we’ve seen horrific responses and worst practice examples of how not to manage an unfolding event.

But, rather than repeat what’s already been said by countless others, I’d thought I’d address the other side of these types of mega-crises: the impact on the morale of the rank-and-file employees of all three organizations.

A serious crisis can be like a cancer that, if left unchecked, can kill an organization from the inside out. Sure, customers will bail. Stock prices will plummet and competitors will scoop up market share, but employee morale and productivity are fundamental to any embattled company’s survival.

I’ve counseled many clients over the years, and ensured that human resources specialists work closely with grief counselors, organizational behavior experts and, when appropriate, even motivational speakers to ensure innocent employees’ needs are addressed.

But many company management teams simply forget their employees when a CNN crew is outside corporate headquarters, a Senate investigation is underway or ESPN is providing 24×7 coverage.

To wit, I remember attending a cocktail reception in the immediate aftermath of the massive, 2008 market meltdown. I happened to bump into a friend who had worked at the now defunct Lehman Brothers. I asked him how he was holding up. ‘I’m ok,’ he said, ‘but my family is taking a terrible beating. My wife’s friends are ignoring her and my kids are being taunted at school. As for me, everyone always asks the same question: How does it feel to have played a part in destroying our economy?’

I’m sure a version of that anecdote is happening right now to the tens of thousands of GM employees who weren’t part of the massive, decade-long quality cover-up.

Imagine what it must be like to work at GM right now. I’ll bet you can hear a pin drop in the corporate offices. And, as far as the factory floors are concerned, you better believe stress levels are overheating faster than a broken down ’68 Buick on the Cross Bronx Expressway.

If GM is to ever turn things around, it’s critical they pay as much attention to the psychological and emotional needs of the employee base as they do to regulators, politicians and the media. Ditto for the VA Hospital. As for the L.A. Clippers, I guess their employees can get away with saying, ‘Hey, I worked for an ass. What can I say?’

So, as the GM and V.A. stories move forward, pay attention to the most overlooked part of any crisis story: employee morale. It’ll be interesting to see how each organization does, or doesn’t, attend to the needs of their most important front-line ambassadors.

If nothing else, management should provide employees with credible answers to the question, ‘So, how does it feel to work for (fill-in the blank).’

Dec 03

You Can Go Your Own Way

This post is dedicated to the long suffering Ann Barlow, President Peppercom West.

This is a cautionary tale about a professional services firm that exemplified a Fleetwood Mac lyric Goaway_sm_000 written with a different meaning in mind. To wit: “Players only love you when they're playing.”

The professional services firm in question has only 'loved' us when they were 'playing' at retaining a PR agency.

They first played with us three years ago. At that time, we were one of several firms to pitch the account. We were told we lost because we lacked an office in the firm's headquarters city (a criterion not mentioned once in previous meetings). Nice.

They next played us about six months ago. In the midst of a mega crisis, they asked us to attend an immediate meeting with their partners. We did so at our expense. The meeting went so well that we were asked how soon we could begin, whether we'd be available for a start-up session the following week, etc. Then, nothing. Radio silence.

More recently, the very same firm re-surfaced asking for help with search engine optimization. Being the naïve optimists that we are, we sent recommendations. Again, nothing. Radio silence.

We're done with this player. They've loved us for the last time. Borrowing from another Fleetwood Mac standard, “(They) can go (their) own way."

Oct 19

Fool me twice, shame on me

As a follow-up to last week’s blog about crisis prospects who disappeared after soliciting our Charlie-brown ideas, here’s one about an equally sinister strain I call the repeat prospect (Latin: devious repeatus prospectus).

This variety makes initial contact, spins one’s wheels, leads one on and then selects another firm only to surface years later with the very same siren call.

And, yes, it is akin to a siren call when an erstwhile prospect calls you out of the blue, tells you how highly they thought of you the last time around and would really love to reengage. It’s just like the guy who, having had his heart broken once before, agrees to hook up with the love of his life, knowing full well she’ll probably burn him once again. Sometimes, just like men and women I know, some public relations firms simply can’t resist the temptation to give it another go (especially in a recession).

So, we did give it another go. Twice, in fact. And, in both cases, we were badly burned for a second time.

The first repeat prospect was a financial services firm that had actually retained us for a few weeks several years back, but then decided to halt the program, open it up for a competitive bid and ended up returning to its previous agency! The drama played out like a subplot in “All My Children.”

Then, like a bolt of lightning, they re-appeared this Spring when things were slow and we were prowling for new business. Sure enough, the repeat prospect wooed us with all sorts of superlatives about our thinking and creativity, and implored us to pitch her ‘two’ separate accounts that, in total, would bill $30k per month. So, knowing full well this woman had burned us once before, we pulled together a presentation, arranged a videoconference and, sure enough, received absolutely no response. When I finally pinged the woman after weeks and weeks of waiting, she said they’d decided to go in another direction.

The second heartbreaker was a law firm that really put us through the ringer three years ago. This one not only demanded a full creative pitch, but an on-site presentation requiring out-of-pocket travel expenses. They left us hanging for weeks before finally telling us that, “We were really looking for a firm in our headquarters town of Duluth, but thanks anyway.” So, when these guys re-surfaced, the self-defense system was at DefCon 5.

Just like the financial services firm, though, the law firm types waxed poetic about our prowess, and even called me a “rock star.” (Note: Flattery will get you everywhere with this blogger.) Still, the whole “ …ya gotta be in Duluth” thing made it a non-starter and we told them so. “Not to worry,” said the lead prospect. “We’ve learned our lesson. Please do us the favor of speaking with our lead partners." So, being the gullible, business hungry agency we were at that moment in time, we pursued the account. We once again subjected ourselves to a videoconference presentation and absorbed the out-of-pocket costs for a trip to the hinterlands. And, sure as rain (or snow, since we’re talking about Duluth after all), nothing happened.

But, you know what? I don’t blame either prospect. It’s my fault for falling for the same line twice. The ‘woman of my dreams’ had re-engaged years after breaking my heart and, like a chump, I convinced myself that, ‘This time would be different.’

Whoever said, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me’ must have pitched these two organizations. Or, maybe some femme fatale suckered him into a second go-round only to once again lay him low? Whatever the case, I’m going to start following George W. Bush’s savvy, advice. Once when delivering a speech, W. decided to quote the line, but mucked it up badly and said, "Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me… (long period of silence)… you can't get fooled again."

I hear you, W. I hear you.



Jan 02

Big Cats Trump Champagne This New Year’s

Guest blog written by Maggie O’Neill.

Spending New Year’s Eve in San Francisco this year the buzz on the streets and around cocktail tables wasZoo_sam_and_tiger
not about resolutions and champagne, but rather on big cats and a bizarre Christmas Day tiger attack.  The story had gripped the city, and cities beyond the Bay as well, I am sure. Even my friends in Rome, perusing the cover stories of the International Herald Tribune, read about Tatiana, the Siberian tiger who had escaped her enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo and mauled three young men (one to death) before being shot and killed by the SFPD.

Counter women at Macy’s, Starbuck’s baristas and everyone I spoke to could not help but take a stand for one side or an other. The Bhutto assassination, presidential primaries and Jamie Lynn Spears all took a back seat to Tatiana and the fateful incident at the San Francisco Zoo.

What we know happened this Christmas afternoon is that a young Siberian tiger escaped from its open habitat and mauled three young men.  But one week later, the facts for the most part stop there. You see, no one who should be talking is talking.  Crisis management plans, SF Zoo leadership and cooperation with authorities by the victims are nonexistent.  However, speculation based on a few clues has everyone else coming forward to craft their own story.  PR nightmare, tabloid dream.

Disgruntled employees are claiming they and the animals were treated badly by the Zoo Director, Manuel Mollinedo.  They have told tales about overlooked issues – specifically the fact that Tatiana’s enclosure was almost four feet under regulation height for a Big Cat sanctuary.  Mollinedo has remained relatively silent except for some finger pointing.

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