In the past two days, my perception of two brands changed for the better, even though things went wrong with both of them.
This week we are rapidly closing-in on two coincidental yet important events: Father’s Day and my annual family vacation. Usually before we leave for a week in the Carolinas, I stock up on a few things and invariably order items online. And with Father’s Day on the horizon, a lot of guy stuff is on sale. So here’s what I shopped for and why my perceptions changed.
One of my clients gave me a gift card from Dick’s Sporting Goods. I had never shopped there before as the nearest location is about an hour away, and I have literally no brand perception of Dick’s beyond hearing the company’s ads on sports radio. I decided to use the gift card to order a new tackle box. It arrived yesterday, in time for my trip, but it was missing some pieces (not sure why). I called Dick’s and without any fuss, the company agreed to send me another tackle box via overnight delivery. (I have to ship the incomplete one back but on Dick’s dime). Despite the fact that someone didn’t properly check my original order, Dick’s created a favorable impression with me because when I complained, they treated me right. I didn’t have to beg, raise my voice, ask to speak with a supervisor or otherwise “escalate” it to a higher authority. So guess what? Even though there isn’t a Dick’s Sporting Goods store within 30 miles of me, the next time I want to order golf equipment or other fishing gear, Dick’s will get the nod.
Also in advance of the trip, I made my annual “kicking and screaming” pilgrimage to buy “menswear” for work and off-days when I’m supposed to be presentable. Again, everything is on sale in advance of Father’s Day, and I have been regularly bombarded with ads from the oddly punctuated clothier JoS. A. Bank (turns out Joseph A. Bank Clothiers, Inc. is a NASDAQ-traded company that has been around since 1905 and has more than 600 locations. I had no idea). So I went to the store near my house and bought several dress shirts and a few pairs of pants. Said trousers were supposed to be hemmed before I left on vacation, but the store called a couple days ago and said the tailor had been sick and it would take a few extra days. I called them back and politely told the store manager that the delay was unacceptable as I would be leaving town in a few days and needed to wear pants. When pressed about the pants (ha), he agreed to have them done for me on time. When I stopped in to pick them up (they were ready with no further hassles), the manager was so nice and apologetic that I decided to do some additional shopping. Amazingly, I found a blue blazer that fit me right off the rack (which has never happened, ever – ever). The price was right and I bought it, but when the clerk took the coat into the back room to pack it up, he noticed a tiny hole where the shoulder met the sleeve of the coat – and he wouldn’t sell it to me. Frankly, I would have never noticed the itsy bitsy hole had he not pointed it out – Mrs. David would have, but not me. I tried-on another blazer but I couldn’t find one that fit as well as the original, pin-holed version. The charge was reversed and I left the store without a new coat, but with a whole new appreciation for JoS. A. Bank. I still don’t understand the name and how they abbreviate it, but I like the brand.
Muhammad Ali once said: “Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.” How we handle adversity in customer service has as much to do with our brand’s success as the quality of our product and the nature of our message. I imagine the “The Greatest” would agree.
I wish everyone a great summer and a Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there. And if you are still looking for a last-minute gift, might I suggest Dick’s Sporting Goods or JoS. A. Bank.
Have you ever had a similar experience, when good customer service trumped a bad experience? Let me know.
Publishing your own news, part of the “democratization” of journalism and communications, has opened many doors for companies to spread their message in a multitude of ways. Almost anyone can write a news release and distribute it online using private wire services that range in price from free to a few hundred dollars. In a matter of moments, your message can be published in hundreds of Internet outlets. Exactly who and how many see it is up for interpretation, but without question, today nearly everyone has many powerful communications tools at their disposal.
One effective tool that’s still available but often overlooked is the opinion page at daily newspapers.
If you open up the front or “A” section of big city daily and thumb to the last two pages, you will typically find the opinion pages. On the left-hand page, you will see editorials written by the newspaper and its editorial board. The newspaper’s position on wide ranging and hopefully “high-minded” issues like zoning, the environment, immigration, local elections and foreign affairs among other topics will be published here. This page also typically houses political cartoons and letters to the editor. Many people are avid writers and readers of letters to the editor. While such letters are effective communications (particularly if you are complaining about potholes and city hall), they are typically edited down and rarely exceed a few hundred words.
The right hand page, opposite to the editorial page, is known as the OpEd page, perhaps called “Viewpoints” or “Other Views” or another descriptive name. In most major newspapers, this page is filled with articles written by syndicated columnists such as Ann Coulter, Cal Thomas or George Will, but many papers have space for commentary from local people.
A few years ago, we helped attorney Hector Lombana place an opinion piece about the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Another client, George Joseph of Dade County Federal Credit Union, wrote a prescient piece in 2006 warning of the dangers of predatory lending – two years before the financial crisis.
The most important rule for writing for the opinion page is that you need to write about an issue that is relevant to the audience and not just about yourself or your company. If you have an intelligent and high-minded (there’s that phrase again) take on an important or fledgling issue, then you have a chance to get published.
Last month, we assisted the Florida International Bankers Association in its efforts to defeat an aspect of the Dolphins stadium tax bill. Part of the money to fund the stadium was to come from eliminating a tax benefit for international banks. The issue was complicated and nuanced and while reporters were covering it, we believed an OpEd piece, which runs close to 700 words, gave us a better opportunity to explain our side of the issue.
While a number of high-profile people in Miami were against the stadium bill, the international bankers had a business reason to oppose it, and we believe this was an important distinction between our client’s message and those who were banging their chest about raising taxes and whether or not public money should go to sports stadiums. FIBA was against the bill for a specific reason and had data to back it up.
In the end, our client turned out to be the perfect counterpoint for the stadium argument, and the Miami Herald took advantage of it, publishing the stadium backers’ “Pro” article next to our client’s “Con” perspective.
The OpEd (which also ran in the Sun-Sentinel) delivered a new level of authority to the international bankers’ argument – and much more credibility than had we published it ourselves using a wire service. On the afternoon that the OpEd ran, the sponsor of the stadium bill removed the language that negatively impacted international banking. We can’t take complete credit for it because a number of talented people assisted FIBA’s lobbying team, but I believe our efforts on the OpEd page made a difference.
Can someone please tell me why Beyoncé and Jay-Z went to Cuba? The first couple of hip-hop traveled there on their anniversary earlier this month and started a classic “political firestorm.” In my opinion, they gave the Cuban government a huge public relations victory. As soon as photos of the couple walking the streets of Havana hit the Internet, the U.S. embargo took center stage and put many politicians on their heels. Reporters, columnists and TV “talking heads” relentlessly questioned why we have the embargo, which is exactly what the Cuban government wants.
But why did Beyoncé and Jay-Z go? Why flex their considerable celebrity muscles to support a communist island. It makes little sense.
If they were trying to use their fame and fortune to help a political cause, why not support a deserving domestic one? The whole event seems like a misguided stunt, particularly when you compare it to political efforts made in the past by other musicians and celebs.
Rock stars have a long history of political involvement, going back to support of groups like Amnesty International decades ago. The first one that I remember was called Band-Aid. In 1984, some of the biggest names in music gathered in London to record a song to benefit starving children in Ethiopia. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was the number one song in the U.K. for five weeks and raised millions of dollars for famine relief. The project was the brainchild of Bob Geldof, lead singer of a band relatively unknown in the U.S. called the Boomtown Rats. Geldof parlayed the success of Band-Aid into a huge benefit concert called Live-Aid. His efforts were recognized with a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, and he was later knighted. Now Sir Bob Geldof serves as the de facto model for rock star activism.
Not to be outdone, musicians in America started USA for Africa in 1985 and recorded “We Are the World,” also to fight hunger and homelessness in Africa. The effort, whether you like the song or not, raised tens of millions of dollars and helped continue to shine a light on an important world issue.
Band-Aid and Live-Aid also spawned Farm-Aid. Willie Nelson and John Cougar Mellencamp (I get to return the “Cougar” to his name because it’s my blog) spearheaded a concert which raised funds for struggling domestic family farms. Nelson and Mellencamp then brought family farmers before Congress to testify about the state of family farming in America. Congress subsequently passed the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 to help save family farms from foreclosure. Effective stuff.
More recently, U2 lead singer Bono has been called the world’s best-known philanthropic performer and the most politically effective celebrity of all time. His campaigns for third-world debt relief led to the cancellation of debt for 23 countries, and he regularly meets with world leaders to discuss critical issues like the AIDS pandemic. Time magazine named him Person of the Year in 2005, and he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. Also knighted. Also impressive activism.
Whether you agree or disagree with Bono’s or John Cougar’s political leanings doesn’t really matter, because at least they used their celebrity capital to accomplish something worthwhile. Over the years, big stars from the world of music have proven that they can make a difference for important causes.
So again, can someone please tell me why Beyoncé and Jay-Z went to Cuba?
My first public relations job was in the Capitol Hill communications office of a U.S. Senator, and I reported to his press secretary, a seasoned former journalist from New York. As an intern, I mainly answered phones, but I also would regularly proofread news releases. Right before we distributed a release, the press secretary would always say that we had a good chance for coverage “as long as there isn’t a fire in the garment district.” Simple translation: A big news event will always scuttle even the best, well-crafted PR message.
On Monday, we had our own version of a fire in the garment district when the bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon. On Monday morning one of our clients did an interview with a television station in Atlanta. We had orchestrated the story, hired a guy to be on the ground for us, prepped the client and coordinated the on-camera interview.
Our client did well discussing his lawsuit against a medical center, and we were expecting the story to run that night. Shortly after our interview rapped, the bombs exploded in Boston, and our story got rightfully bumped – indefinitely.
We did everything right for our client, but there’s nothing you can do when major news breaks. Years ago, I was working on a project where we were trying to get media coverage for a morning event in Miami, but as we were making follow up calls to TV stations, we learned that fashion designer Gianni Versace had been shot outside his Miami Beach mansion. This huge news event, the murder and ensuing manhunt, took-over newsrooms in Miami and beyond. Needless to say, our client’s event wasn’t covered.
While you can’t overcome a story as big as the Boston Marathon bombing, I do have some big picture media relations tips which can be helpful during more typical situations.
Strike While the Iron’s Hot
While we all have busy schedules and we want to be well-prepared for an interview, I recommend doing an interview as soon as possible. First, another source may be interviewed before you and help shape the story in a way that makes your opinion less relevant. Second, the reporter might get enough info for the story from other sources before you even get a chance to talk. Third, deadlines change and the story might get published before your interview even occurs. Lastly, a big news event comes along and scotches the opportunity completely.
Get your “Why Now?” Ready
My friend and fellow PR pro Greg Euston and I spent an evening in New York a few years ago talking media relations, and he opined about the challenge of “why now?” Reporters get pitched interesting stories all day long, so if there isn’t a compelling reason to cover it “now,” then your challenge is magnified. Why now vs. later? Why now vs. ever? You always have to figure out why your story is relevant right now. A year or so ago, a friend of mine was telling me about a PR issue regarding the cruise industry – the specifics aren’t that important. When Carnival Cruise Lines had its problems recently, I suggested that now is a good time to bring the issue up again. Carnival is down and I figured he would have a better chance of getting a sympathetic ear because of it. Sometimes the “why now” presents itself, well, later. The lesson is that you have to be ready to explain to journalists why they should cover your issue now vs. later.
While You See a Chance, Take it
I believe there are very few instances where one should turn down an interview opportunity. I might get some blowback from other PR people on this one, and I have certainly had crisis situations where you try to deflect more than engage. However, in most circumstances, if you have a chance to talk to the press, you ought to do it. Even if you don’t believe you can give any deep insight into an issue, an interview offers a chance to showcase your expertise. In some instances, you may actually change the story because of your insight. A reporter might be misinformed and you can educate them. And even if they don’t use your information, you are branding yourself as a source for a story in the future.
Don’t Sweat What is Out of Your Control
Stories get bumped all the time, and one can’t get upset when a national tragedy takes precedence. I guess I would feel differently if our Atlanta story was pushed back due to Kim Kardashian’s baby or Lindsay Lohan’s admittance to rehab; but it wasn’t, so I’m not.
Luckily, our Atlanta story did eventually run on Wednesday, so we were pleased. But quite frankly, the events of this week put a lot of things in perspective.
Two weeks ago, I published a blog post (When “Nigeria” Comes Calling) about my experience with a scam artist who appeared to be a new business prospect but was actually trying to drain my bank account. I was originally a bit embarrassed about the story because I felt that, while I hadn’t been officially duped, I did get strung-along for a while. Despite my apprehension, I published the post because it was an interesting tale, and I figured there was a chance I might prevent another person from falling for a similar scam.
The response to the post was fascinating. Many people who read my blog knew someone who has been scammed, and I was not the only PR person in Miami to hear from this guy. I want to share some of my interesting feedback.
One of my readers, a local banker, said that wire fraud cases have been on the rise lately.
Another told me of a physician who got taken for $60,000: “Somehow an alleged ‘Nigerian Entrepreneur’ contacted him by cell phone and made all sorts of promises about easy money, if he would just send some ‘seed money’ to him. Well, desperation prevailed over high I.Q. This doctor ultimately sent six tranches of $10,000 a piece before he spoke to his attorney, who told him to STOP.”
Branding agency owner Michael Gold of Goldforest warned there’s another successful scam out there involving video production in China: “They’ve actually GONE to China to get punked!”
A local insurance industry executive told me that he had “a family friend who fell for the scam about 15 years ago. He actually flew to Nigeria for a meeting in connection with the representation of an oil company and they held him for a $25,000 ransom.” He also pointed out that if these scammers used their mental abilities for legitimate business, they would probably be successful.
Honestly, I never imagined the possibility of being “locked-up abroad,” but my aunt did. She was glad I didn’t get scammed and reminded me that “of course, you know that we would all band together to get you out of a Venezuelan jail.”
Peter Kelley, editor of Life & Health Advisor magazine and a self-described ‘scam-o-phile’ said he was disappointed that I ended my story where I did as he “wanted to know how they would make their next move.” Peter explained that in the past he has attempted “to engage a number of fallen princes, interior-wonks, disgruntled aides and otherwise plugged-in facilitators to ‘hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars.’”
Kelley would probably enjoy speaking with a Miami attorney I know who has strung one of these guys along.
He wrote: “I was to collect a large sum of money from a company just blocks away from me. However, I insisted on first receiving a cashier’s check as a ‘non-refundable review fee’ which the scammer had offered. I deposited the check, warning my bank that I had concerns. As suspected, the cashier’s check supposedly from a Canadian bank was a well done fake. I took some mild pleasure in causing them to spin their wheels, although I had also spun mine. You should take equal pleasure. The more they spin their wheels without reward, the better for us.”
I wasn’t the only public relations agency to hear from the Venezuelan oil man. The principal of a local firm told me they got the call a few months ago: “We thought it sounded legitimate (big budget, alternative energy, tied-in with the governor’s office) but when we were told we had to fly to Venezuela, that put us off, as it did you.”
Much to my surprise, the post caught the attention of more than one journalist. Peter Kelley, who I mentioned earlier, asked and received my permission to run my story on his outlet’s website. In addition, Kevin Gale of the South Florida Business Journal liked the new Venezuelan spin on the old “Nigerian” scam and wrote about it in his blog.
Of course, I enjoy the feedback and it’s a fun ego boost, but the best news came last week when a fellow PR person in Miami sent me this message: “I received a call at the office from a man with an accent saying they were calling regarding PR for a project in Venezuela. It came from a blocked number and I remembered your post and hung up immediately.”
We can prevent thousands of future public relations problems by implementing one simple rule: Never name something after a living person.
I have been musing about this topic for years but decided to offer up my rule after private prison company Geo Group this week withdrew its $6 million donation to become the name sponsor for Florida Atlantic University’s football stadium in Boca Raton. Geo Group’s CEO, an FAU alum, made a truly generous offer to have his company’s name grace the stadium. Problems arose though when some pesky students realized that Geo Group has been tagged with a number of human rights violations at its prisons. Next came protests, boycotts and petitions, and after a few weeks of fireworks, Geo Group withdrew its donation. I think the end came shortly after some clever protestors started referring to the stadium, the home of the FAU Owls football team, as “Owlcatraz.”
Now, we can’t stop private companies from putting their names on facilities; there’s just too much money involved. American Airlines Arena, Coors Field and Lucas Oil Stadium et al. are here to stay. But we can stop naming such things after living people. The risk of negative publicity is too high and the examples of PR disasters are too numerous. Here are a few, just off the top of my head:
• In Miami, for a brief period of time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we had a road called Jose Canseco Street. At the time, the former big league slugger and current outspoken steroid user was an adored alum of the school located on that street. Today, not so much. Once local officials learned Jose was juicing, they unceremoniously took his name off the street sign.
• Last year, administrators from Penn State University were forced to remove the statue of legendary Coach Joe Paterno due to the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal and cover-up.
• In Coral Gables, Florida, officials from the University of Miami removed the name of convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro from a campus athlete lounge. Shapiro, currently doing time, had pledged big bucks to the school. (UM gave the money back.)
I can go on and on.
Earlier this week, Miami-Dade commissioners decided that the board’s auditor must complete a background check on any “person, organization, place or thing” under consideration for a naming. It’s a good move. The Miami Herald reported that the decision comes “on the heels of bad publicity surrounding Banah Sugar… City and county leaders christened a stretch of Southeast 10th Avenue ‘Banah Sweet Way’ in its honor. Commissioners later found out that the firm’s owner had served prison time for cocaine trafficking. Banah filed for bankruptcy in February.” Classic.
My rule makes sense. Certainly if you can’t safely erect a statue in honor of former living legends like Paterno, then everyone else should be persona non-grata.
I know this will be unpopular. For example, a quarter mile from my house sits Evelyn Greer Park, named after the first mayor of my little village called Pinecrest. Greer, who is still very much alive, was a fantastic mayor, did a great job getting our village off the ground and helped increase my property value by a goodly sum. Sadly, under my new PR naming rule, she would lose her park.
Say goodbye to the Bill Clinton Library.
Also on the chopping block: Peyton Manning Pass, the street in Tennessee named for the famous quarterback.
I would also suggest removal of Bobby Bowden’s name from the field in Tallahassee bearing his name and [audible gasp] even the statue of Tim Tebow outside the University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (that name stays because Griffin has passed.)
In the future, we can build statues, name streets and christen ships after great men and women all we want. We just have to wait until they rest in peace.
This rule will save so many institutions from public relations embarrassment that PR people will recognize it for years to come. But if they want to name the rule after me, please wait until I’m pushing up the daisies.
Last week, my firm was offered an opportunity to pitch a terrific piece of new business. An international oil company will soon announce a major public private partnership to build a huge energy facility in Florida – creating thousands of new jobs, lowering gas prices statewide and offering my company an A-List client for years to come.
Too bad it was all fake.
I was hit with a variation of an old scam – ancient actually – but with modern, current updates that sounded legitimate enough to make me stop and take notice.
It started with a phone call from a man who said he worked for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, based in Venezuela. Following the recent death of Hugo Chavez, he said the Venezuelan government wanted to show things were “business as usual” and was trying to fast-track a project in Florida to build an energy facility. He said it would be a public-private partnership among his company, Venezuela and Florida and that they wanted to announce the project in Miami at the end of June. Time was short, and making matters worse for him, his wife was in the hospital, preparing to have his first child. He asked if my firm had the capabilities to handle this project and more importantly, if I had any problems representing a project affiliated with Venezuela.
I fell for it – almost. Seeing dollar signs, I focused on the controversial aspect of the proposal first. Would I, a PR guy with a firm in Miami, be willing to represent an endeavor associated with socialist Venezuelans? How would this play with my clients and friends with ties to Latin America and the Caribbean?
I called my politically savvy brother and ran the Venezuela issue by him. He said I needed to be careful but that it shouldn’t stop me from taking the next step. After repeating the proposal to him, I also realized the whole thing could be a complete scam.
Later that day, I called a couple contacts of mine to see if they would be interested in helping me if I landed the business. I made sure to tell them that it was very preliminary, and “you never know, I may be getting punked.”
The next day, I called the guy back, and he gave me more details regarding the deal: Quasi-governmental project with approval of the governor’s office, subcontracting with a major international oil company, big event with heads of state in Miami and a requirement of confidentiality and top-flight security. I asked him if he was talking to other PR firms and he mentioned Edelman, which is indeed a very large international firm.
Then things got weird. In order to start the engagement, I would need to fly to Venezuela and sign a non-disclosure agreement within the next few days. The agreement had to be signed by me and in-person. [Sounded odd.] After we both signed the agreement, I would have to get it notarized at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. I would then bring the agreement back to the U.S. and meet with the governor’s office.
Where would we meet and how would I get there, I asked? He suggested either the Marriott or Ritz Carlton in Caracas. I could fly there first class. He would wire me the money. [Sound of squealing brakes!]
There’s more to the story, but you can see where it’s going.
I shared the details with a close friend who, coincidentally, collects copies of Nigerian letter e-mail scams. We pondered stringing-along our scam artist, but I chose to just run away quickly.
As l recounted the story, I felt a bit embarrassed. I almost fell for a scam as old as the hills; but this wasn’t a wealthy Nigerian prince sending me an anonymous e-mail. It was similar but also a bit different.
Here’s what I should have noticed immediately and what others should look for.
Delivery method can be anything, but message is the same
We are all familiar with the e-mail scam, but this one came as a phone call. The key is the message is always the same – seemingly easy money. In my case, if I was willing to act fast, I would have a lucrative contract without a complicated and exhaustive bid process.
The whole point of the elaborate story was to get me to forget about the risks of offering up my bank information. The scam artist got me to worry about the Venezuela issue, which diverted my attention from other warning signs.
Sounds just real enough
Doesn’t it make sense that the Venezuelan government would want to show things are business as usual after Chavez’s death? The fraudster said he was affiliated with a large, international company and knew just enough about organizing a large media event to keep me hooked.
Time is short
The scammer works to develop a sense of urgency. If the victim is focused on acting quickly, then he will cut corners and make a mistake. The Nigerian prince’s life is in danger. Save him fast and you will be richly rewarded. In my case, act quickly and get the prized contract.
Reviewing what happened to me, I’m still somewhat embarrassed, but I figure sharing what happened to me might help the next guy who gets a new business call that’s actually a Nigerian letter.
“Instead of taking my family on a Carnival cruise for spring break, we’re just going to half fill the bathtub, climb in, and poop.”— recent Twitter post.
Problems at Carnival Cruise Lines have been widely reported by traditional media, but social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter have had an interesting impact on the cruise line and its brand.
First, the funny stuff. A quick check of Twitter the other day found some really amusing observations.
Someone who answers to Bweezy (@bweezy1974) posted this: In order to rehabilitate its image, Carnival Cruise Lines has hired a man named Gilligan to act as first mate on its next three hour cruise.
Writer and television actress (I have never seen her) Sarah Thyre (@SarahThyre) suggested: Naming your cruise line Carnival is like naming your motel chain Toothless Hoarder Garage Sale.
Comedian and “Saturday Night Live” alum Kevin Nealon (@kevin_nealon) said: Glad Carnival Cruise Is not an airline. (Nothing subliminal about that one.)
And it was actor Joshua Malina (@JoshMalina) who played Will Bailey on “The West Wing” and also pioneered poker on television (I’m not kidding) chimed in with the quote listed above: Instead of taking my family on a Carnival cruise for spring break, we’re just going to half fill the bathtub, climb in, and poop.
And my favorite by someone called Andry H’tims (@Thing_Finder) who said: Carnival Announces Plans to Scrap “Survivor-Themed” Cruises: CEO Says People “Just Don’t Seem to Get It”
Aside from offering an outlet for professional and amateur comedy writers to try new material, social media plays an increasing role in how we learn about crises and disasters – and also how communications and PR pros must respond to the same mishaps.
Just a few years ago (before texting, Facebooking and Tweeting were ubiquitous), we might have not heard a word about the Carnival Triumph’s poop cruise until it was all over. On the first week-long cruise I took about 10 years ago, I paid about $150 for the privilege of logging-on to the Internet to check my e-mail while we were at sea. I remember a half dozen computers available in a lounge area; it was not a crowded place.
Today, most cruise ships have some form of wifi onboard and for a fee, you can post like a fiend to your social media accounts.
Tweets and posts gave media outlets access to real-time information about what was happening on the Triumph, at least until everyone’s phones died.
The main lesson here is that every company should monitor social media as a matter of course, but especially during a crisis.
Last week, when Carnival’s Dream got stuck in St. Maarten, Twitter was blowing up with reports of the happenings on the ship. Carnival’s PR team (@CarnivalPR) actively reached out to media outlets that were reporting on the broken down ship.
For example, when Fox News reporter Joshua Rhett Miller tweeted that toilets were overflowing on the Dream, Carnival’s PR team responded with information clarifying that only one toilet had overflowed – hardly news.
Here’s the original tweet:
@joshuarhett #Carnival Dream turns nightmare: Power outages, overflowing toilets reported @CarnivalCruise http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/03/14/power-outages-overflowing-toilets-reportedly-plague-another-carnival-cruise/#ixzz2NWNzJGrT …
And here was Carnival’s response:
@CarnivalPR @joshuarhett Saw your story on Carnival Dream, wanted to make sure you had latest info & details regarding plumbing: http://bit.ly/ZQ0WqS
The link pointed to this statement:
Information on Carnival Dream and Alleged Toilet System Issues
Mar 14th, 2013 @ 12:33 pm › Joyce Oliva
We have had multiple conversations with the ship’s management team related to this subject. Based on the ship’s service logs and extensive physical monitoring of all public areas, including restrooms, throughout the night, we can confirm that only one public restroom was taken offline for cleaning based on toilet overflow and there was a total of one request for cleaning of a guest cabin bathroom. Aside from that there have been no reports of issues on board with overflowing toilets or sewage. The toilet system had periodic interruptions yesterday evening and was fully restored at approximately 12.30am this morning.
Despite all the criticism Carnival has received for its handling of recent incidents, the company’s PR team clearly has plans in place to respond to negative postings online. Perhaps the Triumph incident was just such a huge operational mess that the PR team was beyond overwhelmed.
Prior to the social media revolution, public relations and communications pros spent most of their time worrying about what reporter’s said and wrote. Today, we have to watch multiple fronts. Social media’s use as a news gathering and reporting tool by media outlets must always be part of the overall crisis communications plan.
Do you think Carnival can rehabilitate it’s image? Do you have a plan in place to monitor social media for mentions involving your company?
Each morning, I walk outside and pick up my copy of The Miami Herald, rescuing it from my driveway after its morning skid along the asphalt. Sometimes I wonder how many dinosaurs like me remain, actual subscribers who read the print edition of a daily newspaper. Except for the Sunday edition, which still has some heft, the Herald continues to thin.
Experts and novices alike have been waiting to “call the body” on dailies like the Herald for more than a decade. But the publication lives on, as do dozens of other “major” dailies around the country. Not only are the metro dailies thinner, but the long-term revenue model appears untenable (has for years). And a daily newspaper has to be the “least green” product imaginable – it’s made from trees and is usually obsolete a few minutes after it hits your stoop.
While the advertising model is a monster challenge and the printing costs are exorbitant, what I believe is truly grinding down dailies is their continuing effort to try to be media generalists. Papers like the Herald cover national news, the crime beat, entertainment and food, fashion, sports, neighborhood happenings, and on and on. If I tried to get venture capital funding for a business that wanted to cover all these areas on a metro level, I would get laughed out of the room. Speaking to my friend and really smart marketing guy Carlos Blanco about this, he was cold-bloodedly forthright: “The Internet killed the generalists.” My take: He’s right and the big dailies don’t know it or can’t seem to admit it.
Meanwhile, the specialists soar.
One of the breakout stars of the 2012 election coverage was a wonky blogger named Nate Silver. His FiveThirtyEight.com blog was licensed for publication by the New York Times, and for the final weeks of the campaign, his polling prognostications were like “must see TV.” Friends on Facebook were checking his blog several times a day with cult-like verve. Silver is the ultimate media specialist. His Wikipedia bio calls him “an American statistician, sabermetrician, psephologist, and writer.” I don’t even need to look those up; certainly, he’s no generalist. A couple days after the election, Silver appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart!” (Watch it here). I’m guessing this was the first time Stewart featured a psephologist (which is an expert in the study and scientific analysis of elections – OK, so I did look it up).
For local stories, specialists triumph too.
One of the biggest “Miami” stories in recent memory is the saga of Ponzi schemer and ne’er-do-well former University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. Yahoo Sports first reported his exploits, which allegedly included supplying cash and prostitutes to football players. Somehow, a gifted specialist working for the editorial side of a flagging search engine swooped-in and scooped the Miami Herald on one of its most-prized beats.
Another big story, the steroid scandal involving Major League Baseball players, more UM athletes and others, was first reported by Miami’s New Times, a paper with the main goals of muckraking and entertainment coverage.
And it’s not just here. Do you think daily reporters in Chicago and South Bend, Indiana were happy to see Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o’s story break on DeadSpin.com? Aside from learning the wacky details of the fake girlfriend, I was surprised to read that several members of the team of specialists from the Gawker.com-owned DeadSpin were actually interns.
Back home, generalist daily publications like the Herald are trying to cover subjects as varied as the Everglades, county hall, Castro, condos, Art Basel, the Heat and the humidity. It’s an impossible mandate because the reporters, regardless of their talent, don’t have the time to cover all of these areas well. And if they dig-in on one topic, they will have to leave another unguarded – and that’s when the specialists will jump in and eat their lunch.
I’m not sure what the answer is for metro dailies. They face tremendous institutional pressure to be the catch-all media outlets in their markets. Sadly, I don’t think it will necessarily be printing costs that lead to their ultimate demise. As long as metro dailies remain “masters of none,” the specialists will continue to siphon-off their readers and their revenue.
Do you still get a daily newspaper delivered to your home or business? Let me know. And to see other blogs from top Florida marketing minds, visit www.marketinggroupie.com.
Some PR efforts don’t succeed. Last week, Miami Marlins owner Jeffery Loria bought full-page ads in South Florida’s daily newspapers and published an open letter to fans.
He defended last year’s dismantling of the team, suggested that money it receives from tourist taxes is not “public” money, and largely blamed everyone but himself for the team’s tattered reputation and abysmal ticket sales. He followed the widely panned letter with a press conference reasserting the same points. None of it was well received.
A columnist for the Associated Press has since asked the question: “Is Jeffrey Loria the worst owner in the history of sports?”
Aside from all the rich material here, I was struck by the word choices and tone taken by Marlins President David Samson in a recent story in The Miami Herald: “I’m not going to say Miami is not a sports town,’’ he said. “Or that there is something wrong with the fans? I would never say that.”
Oh you wouldn’t, would you? I think you just did.
I find this type of language fascinating. A former client once said to me: “I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job, but I think…” Guess what? He was telling me how to do my job, just as Samson is saying there’s something wrong with the fans in Miami.
Given my fascination for this “saying it but not saying it” tactic, I decided to seek an expert opinion. I called my friend Dr. Oren Wunderman, a psychologist who also serves as CEO of Miami’s Family Resource Center, a wonderful non-profit group that helps foster kids get adopted. Oren has forgotten more about psychology than I will ever know.
He called Samson’s language a “paradoxical assertion,” where a person asserts a point in one part of a statement and then negates it in another.
“State it and withdraw it,” said Wunderman. “Very sneaky.”
For some of his adolescent patients, Wunderman says such language is unconscious, and he doesn’t hold them accountable for it. With adults, he sees it as a form of manipulation.
Now, I don’t just want to pound on Loria and Samson while they are down. I have never met Loria, but I like Samson. I have heard him speak several times at chamber of commerce meetings and he’s a very smart guy. He’s an advocate for the arts, a proponent of increased fitness and was even pretty good in his cameo role in the recent “The Three Stooges” movie (I’m not kidding: Here’s more on it).
Regardless, the Marlins leadership misjudged how the latest PR efforts would play out. To right the ship and reconnect with South Florida’s fickle fans, I have a few suggestions for Loria and Samson.
Stop talking about the public financing issue. Some people will always be upset that your stadium is publicly financed. Stop worrying about how the stadium was paid-for and stop bringing up the negatives. Get over it. In Miami, we are used to government using our money incorrectly. Defending the financing plan is impossible – our last mayor lost his job because of it. And by the way, whoever gave you the “it’s not public money” sound bite ought to have their head examined. “It’s not public money because it’s from the tourist bed tax?” Are you kidding me? So the millions in tourist taxes would just evaporate into the humid Miami night if we didn’t earmark it for your stadium? A lot of people will hate it forever and you can’t change them; so move on.
Stop blaming. Blaming is bad for business. Sorry, but it is neither the media’s nor the fans’ fault that the vitriol is flying and nobody wants to buy a season ticket. Yes, people are piling-on, but every sports franchise has to take the good with the bad. Each time a Marlins executive blames the fans or media, he sounds like a petulant child. At this point, nobody cares if you take your ball and go home. Remember, the fans pay your salary and right now they don’t think you have earned your pay. As for the media, no other business aside from sports has multiple pages of daily newspapers devoted to it everyday. Media coverage is a tremendous gift, but with coverage comes scrutiny. You have to roll with it.
Stop being so disingenuous. Right now, all fans hear is whining and double-talk. Saying that the team is better off now because it has improved its farm system doesn’t play at all in “win-centric” South Florida. My suggestion would be for the team’s executives to sit down with fans and season ticket holders and get their feedback. Listen to your base of support and hear them out. Take your medicine, then explain your decisions and be honest that you believe this strategy gives you the best chance to get back to the World Series. Next, develop a long-haul position that focuses on what fans will see on the field this year. Lastly, get your promotions team working on plans to put some butts in seats, so you can start genuinely re-earning faith.
The Marlins face a long rough road to improve their on- and off-field performance. If they back down from the negative messaging, and take a long-term and genuine approach, then they can win back South Florida fans. If not, expect the chilly relationship to continue.
What do you think? Did the Marlins need the reboot or is it another money grab? Will you be going to any games this year?