Friday, February 27

Asking Social Questions: Pete Cashmore

Pete Cashmore, founder of Mashable, which is a news blog dedicated to Web 2.0 and social networking news, asked an interesting question last week about human behavior. Does social media — specifically the immediacy and accessibility of information — change the way people act in an increasingly public world, and thereby make people nicer?

Diverse Reactions Suggest A Common Answer

"I think it may improve behaviour in 'public spaces' (that term deserves its own entry), and it may extend that improved behaviour to family and friends that could turn on us - I’m thinking of The Hoff’s daughter and Alec Baldwin’s daughter (yep audio alone can be embarrassing too.) - but this is a superficial change. Behaviour is about appearances. And changing behaviour does not mean changing intent (hearts and minds)." — Richard Weiser

"How you handle a differing opinion will speak volumes about you and can either enhance (or undermine) your personal credibility." — Sharlyn Lauby with online conflict tips

"It certainly can, if we use it properly - and, as the blog post suggests, the instant exposure of social media can help throttle down bad behavior. But people are people, and I think we’ll always see a mix of goodness and folly in any method of communicating." — Steve Woodruff

"The comments at the end of the article are mixed. I for one, do not think that social media makes me a better person. Maybe a person with more access to contributing my thoughts and opinions or a person with more public visibility or a person who is more careful of what I choose to throw around online, but not a better person." — Practicum Pioneers

"Social media doesn’t make us better people, but it does make us more conscious people." — Melissa at ZooLoo

"You hear too often about people getting caught in the act of committing unacceptable societal acts (i.e. most recently Michael Phelps). With people becoming more socially active on the Web, not only do you have big brother government watching, you also have millions of other people that are watching if they really wanted to. More than ever, you need to protect your reputation, because it can be tarnished in an flash." — Ismael Seguban

Common Answers Clarify Complex Questions

Two years from now (barring government restrictions), it's very unlikely we will distinguish Internet communication or social media from other forms of communication. It will become part of the whole, much like all other mediums eventually became indistinguishable as they were adopted. And, therein lies the answer to Cashmore's question.

Direct intervention, such as changing the environment as any new medium or technology does, influences behavior. However, direct intervention generally does not change a person's character. Only indirect intervention, such as nurturing specific ideas or encouraging specific choices so that people might choose to change themselves, instills a legacy of positive behavior.

In other words, while the immediacy, accessibility, and diminished privacy may influence the way we interact — knowing that any of our actions, conversations, and correspondence could be published for public consumption — it does not change human behavior or character. It only makes us temporarily more guarded.

Thursday, February 26

Rebranding Blunder: Tropicana Orange Juice

Watching Peter Arnell, founder and chief creative officer of Arnell Group, explain the rationale behind the branding change of Pepscio's Tropicana package redesign is almost painful to watch. The clip from a press conference held five weeks ago is now archived at AdvertisingAge.

"Emotionally, it was very, very difficult, and it still remains difficult, for everyone to grasp the importance of that change because it so dramatic," said Arnell. "Of course, historically, we always showed the outside of the orange. Um, what was fascinating was that we had never shown the product called the juice."

Does he mean like EVERYBODY else?

Arnell, who suffers his own brand paradox, seems to have made a fatal mistake. Perhaps swept up by the bizarre sea of change occurring at PepsiCo, the redesign scheme for Tropicana Orange Juice was doomed from the start. Why? Because the concept was driven by an introspective redesign.

As consumers pointed out to The New York Times, the new packaging was “ugly” or “stupid,” resembling “a generic bargain brand” or a “store brand.” In fact, even after hearing Arnell's explanation, it's difficult to understand the logic behind a redesign that makes the product look like everybody else because the company had never tried that before.

Change For The Sake Of Change Is Naughty.

This isn't the first time marketers and consumers have questioned agency recommendations to embrace identity redesigns that don't hinge on the five best reasons to consider change. It won't be the last either. You see, the reality is that rebranding, especially when it's built on some guy's imagination without significant consideration of the external market, is an easy way to own an organization while the rebranding occurs and squeeze out some extra billing too.

During those relatively rare occurrences when rebranding makes sense, it's important to factor in what changes have occurred in the marketplace over what the company has done before. In other words, redesigning away from existing identity doesn't make any sense whatsoever if the creative only delivers a contrast to past creative instead of a contrast to competing products.

In the case of Tropicana, PepsiCo is now bowing to public demand and scrapping the changes and sticking the straw back in the orange, an image that was smart because it stuck with the consumer. While some might argue that the publicity might pad the price tag of the redesign, I disagree. The last impression you want attached to your brand is "stupid." Ironically, Tropicana orange juice will retain the "squeeze cap" concept, which makes you work a little bit harder to enjoy the product and makes me happy that my daughter prefers apple juice.

The bottom line: when agencies "sell" rebranding concepts, make sure the rebranding is market driven and not agency "sales" driven. Otherwise, the only thing your company will be stuck with is the bill.

Wednesday, February 25

Planning Breakthroughs: Mike Ferrell

"Success is simple. Do what's right, the right way, at the right time." — Arnold H. Glasow

Simple becomes the operative word in describing Mike Ferrell's new book, Ultimate Breakthrough Planning, from Scarletta Press. It's simple enough that it risks being overlooked by varied best seller lists, but important enough that small business owners and managers would benefit to see it there.

Ferrell, president of The Pinecrest Group, has been involved with eight different start-ups, with considerable time working in the financial services arena. He has also presented to thousands of people at workshops and seminars. But that's not why management could benefit from the little red book that could.

"In 2005, 544,800 small businesses closed for a variety of reasons: lack of capital, lack of customers, poor location, bad service, or the wrong product," writes Ferrell. "How many of these could have avoided this fate if they had an easy-to-follow plan, or blueprint, that would help them succeed?"

Ultimate Breakthrough Planning defines itself as the blueprint that can help small businesses move away from thinking in terms of a traditional business plan and into an actionable business funnel approach. While I found the funnel to be similar to other models we've helped businesses adapt in the past, Ferrell puts down his approach in a much more comprehensible format and then goes a step further. He starts with the six key elements of success ...

Vision and Branding. How to determine what your business will look like and how it will function.
Leadership and Team. How to clearly communicate vision with your team to make it more effective.
Marketing Systems. How to create marketing that is done consistently across a variety of mediums.
Sales Process. How to understand your customers and develop stronger relationships with them.
• Exceptional Service. How to take good service to a higher level, and engaging your team to do it.
Strategic Alliances. How to determine what you do well and find people to do what you don't do so well.

... and then, he drives each of these critical areas through his funnel process. It seems to me that it is this process where Ferrell's ideas for an executable business process take hold. He does not force businesses into a cookie cutter model, but rather guides his readers through a process, from the macroscopic concept to the microscopic action.

What's the difference? Most business advisers define vision and branding in typical terms and then produce various statements that are sometimes mocked until they are long forgotten. Contrary, Ferrell suggests all six elements are all executable by identifying priorities, setting goals and objectives, defining strategies, determining tools, communicating and training, creating tasks and timelines, tracking results, and rewarding success. While the outcome of this process for each company would produce very different conclusions, each would benefit with an equal propensity for results.

That is the point isn't it? Personally, I have yet to find any two companies that are the same. And yet, every day, marketers and business consultants insist that all companies adopt the same models, marketing, or priorities. Why? Because that is what most businesses want to hear. Never mind what works for our employees and customers, they say, I want to do what works for someone else's customers because we want their outcomes. Ferrell spells out the problem with a sports analogy.

"When a football coach designs a game plan, he doesn't focus on the eventual outcome of the game; he focuses on the specific offense, defensive and special teams plays that need to happen to affect the eventual outcome in his favor," writes Ferrell. "Too many business owners focus on their plan and skip specific steps needed to achieve those results.

He's right. The reality of any game is this: we do not know the outcome. So while setting goals is useful, the focus needs to remain on the strategies and tactics that are required in order to achieve those goals. It's not all that different from what I've been suggesting with the ROC abstract.

It's also this kind of thinking that makes Ferrell's work immediately applicable. Every business has strengths and weaknesses, and there is ample material to help determine which areas — offense, defense, or special teams — could be brushed up for better results. More importantly, Ultimate Breakthrough Planning helps business owners think about and evaluate their businesses as if it was the first time, which far too many forget to do.

With the exception of a few minor blemishes throughout, the only soft spot in the book can be found in the Question and Exercises chapter where Ferrell suggests a self-analysis for Vision and Branding that is a bit too introspective for my taste. I believe even the smallest businesses can benefit by involving key members of the team to answer the questions he proposed. There is no need to wait until the second element before you bring them into the process. Engage them at the beginning.

Otherwise, it's easy for me to recommend this book. It's straightforward and clearly articulates what businesses ought to do if they want to make success simple. That is what we want to do, isn't it? After all, if a business isn't focused on success but only "survival" in a down economy, then it's already operating at a deficiency and heading for a loss.

Tuesday, February 24

Closing Case Studies: Peanut Corporation Of America

Two weeks ago, Peanut Corporation of America, which was the source of a national salmonella outbreak, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Virginia.

The decision to file bankruptcy is clearly stated to limit the company's ability to take any actions regarding recalled products that were shipped from its Georgia and Texas plants. It has advised that it is no longer able to communicate with customers of recalled products, and the previous instruction for customers to contact PCA is no longer applicable.

To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recalled 2,100 products in 17 categories by more than 200 companies. The list continues to grow.

The FDA has released several communication materials to help consumers make sense of the outbreak, including an video of how outbreaks outbreak occurred and PDF documents that illustrate the distribution process and investigation timeline.

How Reputation Mismanagement and Bad Communication Can Kill

The FDA and several investigations seem to indicate that the PCA acted with gross negligence that is responsible for sickening over 600 in 44 states and Canada, linked to nine deaths, resulted in thousands of recalls, and caused the business failure of at least one company.

While it remains the argument of many that Stewart Parnell, owner and president of PCA, placed profits before public safety, there are still valuable lessons to learn for public relations professionals and communicators. You don't have to lie.

Show me a PR person who is "accurate" and "truthful," and I'll show you a PR person who is unemployed. — Andrew Cohen

While the public relations industry took exception to Cohen's comments last year, there is some truth to be found in his harshness. Some public relations practitioners help companies turn frowns upside down, attempting to put the very best light on the very worst situations. We might see it over, and over, and over again, but it's not the job. So what is the job?

Reinforce Core Values. A smart public relations professional or communicator could have reinforced the core values of the company, making employees aware that consistent quality, safety, and dependability was the priority not just in marketing materials but in action.

• Advise On Reputation Management. A skilled public relations professional or communicator could have outlined the considerable risk of reputation damage if the company continued to maintain substandard safety practices.

Turn Whistleblower. An ethical public relations professional or communicator could have reinforced public safety as a critical component to plant operations and communication, including their responsibility to report transgressions.

Manage The Crisis. A seasoned crisis communication professional or communicator could have outlined a proper course of action for the company, assuming the contamination was in fact an accidental occurrence and not an orchestrated event.

Prioritize Communication. An experienced public relations professional or communicator could have prioritized the communication, advising a deeper than needed stop shipment and recall. The second priority would have been to demonstrate (not state) empathy to those affected and accept responsibility as warranted, including any wrongful deaths.

Avoid Marketing Messages. A vigilant public relations professional or communicator could have ensured any statements made to the public were devoid of marketing messages until evidence concluded the contamination was an isolated incident.

Keep Communication Open. An attentive public relations professional or communicator could have kept communication open, honest, and candid throughout the crisis, even if they were not the designated spokesperson, making minute-to-minute recommendations to the executive team to avoid disaster.

So why didn't any of this happen? I've spoken to enough recruiters and public relations firms to know that most consider the skill sets necessary to perform any of these tasks secondary to the size of a person's e-mail list and perceived relationships as an extension of marketing. As long as that remains the priority, companies will continually find themselves in the kill zone when their reputation is on the line because the most common answer out of the mouths of Rolodex keepers is to spin it away.

The longer you work in communication, the more likely you will learn that it's hard enough to tell the truth and be believed. Do you know what I think? If you lie to the public, you're not in public relations. You're in the urban dictionary.

Peanut Corporation of America. Case closed. And the company too.

Three public relations related posts:

Communication Overtones: Is PR paid to lie?

Sane PR: 60.3% of Britons Believe PR Officers Lie

Silicon Alley Insider: Top ten lies PR agencies tell their clients

Monday, February 23

Measuring Communication, Realization Part 2

Last November, Motrin came under fire for a snarky advertisement that played on the idea that moms who use baby carriers and slings are making a fashion statement that "totally makes me look like an official mom." After Motrin pulled the advertisement to avoid more outcry, there was plenty of debate whether or not the ad should have been pulled.

Unfortunately, many debaters asked the wrong question. Most asked a broader audience whether or not the advertisement was offensive or if the outcry was an overreaction. No surprise, most men, single women, moms who don't use baby carriers/slings, etc. all said that moms who do carry their babies in slings overreacted, which mirrored a USA Today poll that revealed only about 31 percent of the public said that the ad went too far.

"See?" said some. "Most people were not offended."

Except, except, except, communication is not an election where companies can afford a 51 percent approval rating for the win. It didn't matter what most men, single women, moms who don't use baby carriers/slings thought of the advertisement. It only mattered what moms who do carry their babies in slings thought because they were the intended audience. Specifically, the offending advertisement had nothing to do a print campaign as USA Today reported. It had to do with one video popping up on a site that consisted of moms who do carry their babies in slings. They were the audience!

How do you realize intent in communication?

Once you have the right message, your best bet is to make it suitable for the organization, medium, and audience. This is the portion of the ROC equation where execution matters most. The right message produced the wrong way could have disastrous results.

Organizational Suitability

In 2007, Gap, Apple, Motorola, and others spent nearly $100 million on the Red campaign that raised only $18 million, drawing concern among nonprofit watchdogs, cause-marketing experts, and even executives in the ad business. The controversy was a painful reminder that cause marketing is better suited to campaigns that are a little less slick and whole lot less expensive.

But it doesn't end with nonprofits. Draft FCB locked in its loss of the Wal-Mart account after rubbing the win in the face of its peers. A single photo set the tone for the downfall of a presidential candidate. PETA seemed to struggle with the concept. YouTube even requires you confirm you are over the age of 18 to view the ad.

Medium Suitability

This is the reason that is dead. As a video and entertainment site in which the brewer infused millions of dollars to produce, the concept was right but the message as well as the execution for the medium was all wrong. And now, it's closed. It might have worked, but they forgot to focus on what they know. Um, beer.

Medium suitability is also why marketing-laced press releases don't go anywhere. In 2005, for example, Pole Position Marketing apologized for sending out a release that it later described as "less than substantial" and "lacked additional relevant information." At least they had the good sense to apologize. The release was better suited for a company blog. Um, on second thought, that one didn't even warrant a post.

There is an entire Web site dedicated to bad billboards. Esquire featured several bad television commercials. Someone posted a great example of a bad radio commercial on YouTube. Almost all of them have one thing in common. They are not suited for the medium.

Audience Suitability

When Miller beer attempted to target microbrew beer drinkers a few years ago, not only did non-customers NOT buy Miller, but the ads also alienated Miller’s core blue collar consumer. The agency won awards for the campaign, and Budweiser quickly captured the alienated Miller drinker. In sum, they gave up the girl all because of one Dick.

It made about as much sense as Chrysler giving up on its roots to spend more than $100 million on Dr. Z. Did they really expect to capture German car buyers while retaining the people who gave you a second shot because of this guy?

If you want to know who gets it right, consider McDonald's. They seem to understand this in Japan, Korea, Israel, and everywhere else. Same message, different audience.

Suitability Helps Connect

Social media isn't much different. When one of my students mentioned that my posts break some from the conventions I'm teaching them about news releases, I chuckled. Different mediums call for different presentations. I wouldn't put this post on a billboard either. Or in other words, in the right venue, the Motrin advertisement might have worked.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

Friday, February 20

Wading Intelligence: Perceptual Pools

"In reality, there is only one flower. But inside a perceptual bubble, there may be three." — Richard Becker

While the foundation of public relations remains unchanged, the environment in which it operates is changing. In 20 years, mainstream media expanded from four channels to 4,000 channels and the Internet from a few sources to a seemingly infinite stream with an entire library of new content being added every second of the day.

Infinite Information Creates Miniature Realities.

While perception is a common theme here, it was Dan Schnur, a leading political and media strategist speaking at New Media and Political Campaigns, held in the Aurora Forum at Stanford University, who perhaps best articulated the concept that as information expands, the informational pools people draw upon shrink. For individuals, the danger becomes one of isolation, or as Schnur noted, people are drinking from completely different pools of information, which eventually creates different realities.

"As empowering as this media is, it's also isolating," said Schnur. "We have an array of not just three new programs at 6:30 at night, and not just five radio stations on our car radio, but when we have 800 cable TV, an infinite number of radio stations, and an even larger number of Web sites, blogs, and e-mail opportunities, it becomes much more easier for us to pick and choose who we talk to, what we talk about, and what we hear."

The outcome of this endless array of options affords us the opportunity to customize our information to such a degree, that we invent our own world view, which may be completely different from the world view of another person who made different choices. Schnur doesn't mean different opinions. He means different facts all together.

For example, if one person chooses Bill Maher, Daily Kos, and Media Matters, and another chooses Rush Limbaugh, Town Hall, and NewsBusters, both would develop opposing views of the new administraton, stimulus bill, and economic direction of the country. They would not just have different opinions, but an entirely different set of facts upon which to validate those opinions rather than drawing different conclusions based upon the same facts.

The outcome was made apparent last week after my post on fear communication, especially as it pertained to President Obama. In sharing the idea offline, two different people with polar political viewpoints had two different impressions of whether I was right about the communication. In fact, it took a recent affirmation from former President Clinton before that observation was even accepted by one of them.

The Danger of Validating Opinion.

The danger is two-fold. As people go to sources of information that validate what they believe instead of challenging them, the continuing transformation of media could further polarize perceptions as it aims to increase circulation by catering exclusively to that audience. Jonathan Alter, columnist and senior editor for Newsweek magazine, also at the Aurora Forum, recognized it as a troublesome trend.

"The definition of good journalism that I believe in [correct attribution: Finley Peter Dunne] comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," said Alter. "The problem is that if the comfortable is not listening to you because you are not agreeing with them or comforting them, you get a different kind of journalism where you afflict the already afflicted and comfort the already comfortable."

The challenge becomes increasingly problematic because unpopular or even objective viewpoints become ignored, labeled as biased, or drowned out by diatribe. As individuals, and especially as communicators, it becomes especially important to drink from as diverse of information pools possible to maintain as broad of a world view as possible — accepting viewpoints that challenge us more than than validate our ideas.

The Challenge for Communication.

The challenge, especially as mainstream media struggles to adapt to a new market conditions, is that many publics may not be inclined to sample opinion outside their comfort zones. This creates an especially challenging environment for public relations because the trend is not isolated to politics.

Specifically, the challenge becomes applying a foundation that remains to some an increasingly diverse environment where two different people, living next door, could have as different realities as people living half a world away. It's at the heart of what Geoff Livingston called the "Communicators are in a perpetual losing battle for the attention of inundated minds." Except, it's not limited to advertising or communication. It applies to social media too. It only takes a click for consumers to unfollow.

Or to reframe the thought, take what Abraham Lincoln said — "Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing." — and then recognize that people find trees uncomfortable.

Thursday, February 19

Setting Policies: 20 Rules For Social Juice

Whether or not your employees choose to congregate at Starbucks, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, or Dunkin' Donuts is their own decision. However, meeting with prospects, clients, and the public at places with coffee is fundamentally changing the way we work and engage people.

For this reason, it is imperative that employers explore how talking to people and drinking coffee can empower us all as global professionals, innovators, and citizens. These individual interactions represent a new model: not mass communication, but mass consumption on an individual scale.

Innovative companies believe in the importance of open exchanges and learning — between employees and clients, employees and vendors, employees and employees, employees and their family members, and employees and tasty beans — at various societal ecosystems where you can find them brewing coffee and dunking tea bags.

In fact, many consider it a rapidly growing phenomenon with people who drink coffee, and people who don't drink coffee but hang out with people who drink coffee, emerging as an important arena for engagement and learning. After all, as businesses, innovators, and corporate citizens, all companies make important contributions to the world.

So, as business activities increasingly focus on the provision of transformational insight and high-value innovation, it becomes more important for employees to congregate at coffee houses and donut shops whenever possible. In doing so, they can share all of the exciting things that their companies are doing and learn from one another too. However, there are some guidelines they should all abide by at coffee houses and donut shops. Maybe they need a coffee shop policy. Here's one example:

Employee Coffee Shop Engagement and Donut Dialogue Policy

1. Make it about you, not us. Make it clear that your choice of coffee, whether Caffè Verona or Decaf Sumatra, is yours and not those of your peers or employer.

2. Loose lips, sink ships. Never share company's proprietary information, including what coffees other employees or your employer might enjoy to inspire ideas. Above all, it is not your business whether a double latte has too much caffeine for someone's body size and certainly not the business of others.

3. Follow etiquette guidelines. Ask your manager if you have questions about what might be appropriate to wear at different coffee houses. Different shops and houses have different rules about what is or what is not appropriate. When in doubt or if your manager does not know, drive around the coffee shop the day before and take notes. Wear what other people wear, assuming that you have a similar body type and are of the same gender.

4. Flatter people, don't fault them. When talking about others, be respectful of the company, employees, customers, partners, and competitors (except that one competitor; they really are jerks). When in doubt, ask people if they think they are jerks. If they agree that they are jerks, only then is it permissible to call them such (except that one competitor, as noted, or if you are the CEO and using a fake name).

5. Always consider what is appropriate. Understand that specific topics, such as the economic conditions of coffee growing countries, are taboo. Never ask the employees at the coffee shop how much money they make or why they want tips. Never attempt to bribe coffee shop employees to put salt in someone's coffee for you. It's not funny.

6. Consult attorneys. Some topics are so serious they may breach confidential or legal compliance, especially those that are confidential or require legal compliance. When it doubt, call your supervisor and ask permission. If they are already at the coffee shop, shout the information out to them. They will let you know if it is appropriate.

7. Don't let it interfere with work. Ensure your coffee consumption does not interfere with your work commitments. Too much coffee may make you hyper and could cause a general distraction to others. Some people also experience coffee or sugar crashes in the afternoon, which reduces productivity. Don't overdo it.

8. Take responsibility and be careful. Know that you are personally responsible for the coffee you order, consume, and any other beverage or snack you choose. Always be mindful that coffee can stain! If you drool or are otherwise a sloppy coffee drinker, tuck a napkin in the collar of your shirt or place one on your lap.

9. Identify yourself everywhere. Every time you walk into a coffee shop, shout out your name and what you do for your employer. Even though we require you to identify yourself as an employee, make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not your employer. Specifically, attribute anything smart to us, and anything stupid to you.

10. Be a real person. Never refer to yourself in the third person. Someone might mistake what you are saying as speaking for the company. Besides, it's weird.

11. Don't speak for the company. If you have any other conversations about any other subject or affirm that you enjoy a particular type of coffee, state a disclaimer, such as: "That conversation was my own and doesn't necessarily represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions."

12. Ask permission to cite allies. Never talk about, cite, or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval. When you do reference them, make sure to provide their cell phone number for attribution and/or affirmation and clarification.

13. Respect unknown boundaries. Don't use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not generally be acceptable. You should also show proper consideration for others' privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory, such as politics, religion, and the origin of specific beans.

14. Listen in before speaking out. Find out what other people are talking about at the coffee shop. Walk up to a few tables and ask them or listen in to their conversation. Then, announce to the people you are with what the other people are talking about. Point them out so there is no confusion. If they give you an odd look, tell your friends to make fun of them, but you are not allowed to do so.

15. Be aware that you are an employee. When you identify yourself as such, ensure your behaviors are consistent with how you wish to present yourself with colleagues and clients. Never order a cafe mocha when you want to be an espresso.

16. Don't call people names or arbitrarily punch them in the head. Always be the first to admit your mistakes, such as adding two packets of sugar when one would have been enough. Don't ask for a new coffee, however. Once you make a mistake, you have to drink it.

17. Try to add value at the coffee shop. While receiving your coffee, engage the employees with how they could wear their hair better or make a more personable impression with other customers. Tell other people how to drink coffee a little better or reduce the number of crumbs that fall from their scone. They really want to know and it demonstrates we're leaders.

18. It's our brand, respect it. As your employer, we take the position that our brand is best represented by its people and what you do in a coffee shop may reflect on that brand, which is why you are not allowed to represent our brand.

19. Use your best judgment. Sure, all of these rules might suggest that we think you are incapable of using your best judgement, but we care about you. The general rule of thumb should be, if you feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable standing on your head in public or sticking a fork in your eye, pause and analyze your feelings. Maybe it is best that you don't do whatever it is you are thinking to do.

20. Admit your weaknesses. If you don't feel you have good enough judgement to make any of these decisions on your own or are still unsure of what to talk about at coffee shops, feel free to discuss it with your manager. While it might reaffirm that you are a dimwit, he will be able to give you the best advice of all. When in doubt, don't say anything at all . Of course, it is perfectly okay to say anything at all anywhere else, except as it pertains to sandwich shops. Those rules are posted elsewhere.

The Bottom Line On Social Media.

Did you ever wonder if companies are taking social media too seriously? After all, most companies spend tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, and even billions of dollars trying to find and engage an audience. And while there is ample research that shows that these publics are on the Internet, it remains the only environment where companies are so afraid to engage them that they write social media policies that would be considered laughable if applied to any other setting. Maybe.

What's your policy?

Wednesday, February 18

Shifting Niche: RiseSmart vs. TheLadders

Almost one year ago, two companies set out to differentiate themselves from other job search sites within the same niche: TheLadders and RiseSmart. Each wanted to dominate a subscription-based job site niche that focuses on jobs starting at $100k.

However, with the economic downturn, pursuing qualified employers or qualified candidates in a race toward a shrinking middle seemed increasingly futile. As TheLadders entrenched itself in offering employer-driven job search resources, RiseSmart set out to find a bigger court by adding outplacement to its core services.

Play From A Bigger Court To Win A Niche?

"Traditional outplacement services have simply become too expensive in the minds of many companies," Sanjay Sathe, founder and CEO of RiseSmart, said in a release. "Employers are frustrated with these services, because they cost a lot but typically don't demonstrate measurable results for employees. During a time of financial pressures, they've become a target of budget cuts."

The move makes sense. Whereas outplacement consulting firms represent a $3 billion industry to provide transitioned employees with career counseling, RiseSmart expanded its business model to include outplacement services that directly targets employers without giving up its candidate-focused service. For RiseSmart, it establishes a beachhead in the outplacement industry and nurtures employer relationships when the economy eventually reverses course.

The move benefits employers too. Rather than funneling employees to outsource companies that sometimes emphasize new careers, RiseSmart clients are directing laid off employees to a service that finds them jobs. If job placement can be expedited, former employees who have relationships with coworkers at the their former company boost morale despite layoffs.

Outplacement Services Can Improve Employee Relationships.

"Businesses sometimes forget that employees who are laid off are still part of the internal culture," one human resource executive, who recently managed several hundred layoffs, told me. "Just because they pack up their desks doesn't mean they break off all the relationships they made while working at a company. The morale of former employees and their ability to secure new jobs directly impacts the employees that remain."

While it's not formal communication, the message resonates with internal audiences. It shifts the focus from internal rumors back toward satisfying customers because employees know even if they are laid off, there is a plan to place them. Providing a sense of security may be critical during economic uncertainty.

Companies that do not provide a sense of security may jeopardize their own future. While the recession has temporarily lowered employee turnover, as many as 40 percent of employees at companies mishandling layoffs could seek new employment when the economy improves. High turnover rates typically cost between 150 to 250 percent of an employee's annual salary, with high-performing employees being among the first to go.

Relationships In Bad Times Create Opportunities In Good Times.

RiseSmart might not be the largest subscription-based job site that focuses on jobs starting at $100k, but it is playing smart. If it continues to cater to qualified candidates while developing relationships with employers during an economic downturn, it may overtake some middle ground as the economy improves. The move positions the company as a link.

Contrary, TheLadders added 400 new companies and recruiters in the fourth quarter, reinforcing its employer model. The number of candidates hoping to secure these jobs spiked 63 percent last year. The move positions the company as a middleman.

In reality, both companies are still battling for premium position in a niche market. RiseSmart may have expanded its court, but it still pokes fun at the competition. Recently, RiseSmart pointed out that as clever as the commercials from CareerBuilder, Monster, and TheLadders can be, none of them reinforce human side of job placement.

Other Voices Taking Note Of The Extended Matchup.

Mashable: RiseSmart is Job Hunting for Lazy, Laid-off Execs

Cheesehead: RiseSmart Gets $3 Million In Funding

AlarmClock: High End Job Search Site RiseSmart Raises $3M

Tuesday, February 17

Marketing Mobile: CW Multimedia

Almost two years, Harris Interactive, a full-service market research firm, presented a complimentary webinar that suggested mobile advertising was particularly adept at strengthening the bond between the brand and the consumer, communicating messages, and changing behavior.

It had good reason to. Although not part of the webinar, two days prior, Idol Gives Back had nearly broken records, raising more than $60 million for poor children in Africa and the United States. At $60 million, Idol Gives Back was just $1 million shy of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.

In Louisville, Ky., that same program became a defining moment for the owners and employees of CW Multimedia. Several members of the team were watching American Idol when they recognized a new direction for their multimedia company. Mobile marketing was their future.

"We had already been kicking around the mobile marketing for several months," says Mike Willis, national sales director. "But the volume of text messages that came in that night really put a light under things."

The Kentucky Derby Provides The Test For Text

One year later, the Kentucky Derby Festival allowed festival fans to send text messages from their cell phones at selected events. The initial promotion, a simple Text-2-Win contest, asked fans to text “THUNDER” to a designated number to win VIP seats. More than 2,000 text messages were received in a couple hours.

CW Multimedia quickly modified the next event to include Text-2-Screen, allowing fans during concerts to text messages to a JumboTron screen at the venue. By October, Churchill Downs had teamed with Pepsi, allowing participants to purchase Pepsi products with instructions on how they could win six clubhouse tickets for the 2009 Kentucky Derby using their phones.

Toby Keith Presents Some Of The Possibilities

"One of our newest partners is country singer Toby Keith, whose fans can opt-in to his mobile fan club and receive updates, special offers, pre ticket sales, and all sorts of things," says Willis. "His fans also use Text-2-Screen at his concerts. You know, when we were growing up, we'd hold up lighters at concerts. Kids today are texting messages to the screen, adding themselves into the show."

Since adding the Mobile Fan Club, Keith has had more than 50,000 fans opt in to receive special offers, alerts, wallpapers, ring tones, and exclusive invitations. In addition, CW Multimedia tracks all activity, including text response via its own database software system. It tracks, in real time, information sent from the fan's phone, allowing some offers — such as a private meet and greet — to be sent to a specific area code or designated group within the database.

The benefit to fans? Imagine your favorite singer inviting you back stage after the show. Exactly.

The Future Of the Internet Is Predicted To Be Mobile

Last year, there were more than 250 million cell phone subscribers in the U.S., which represents about 82 percent of the population. By 2020, the Pew Internet & American Life Project projects that mobile devices will be “the primary connection tool to the Internet for most people in the world.”

"Mobile devices already represent more eyeballs than television sets or desktops," says Willis. "What a better way to connect to your audience or community no matter where they are, at any time … the first two things people look for before they head out the door are their wallets and phones."

CW Multimedia isn't the only one who thinks so. As the only company contracted with every carrier in the U.S., it has hosted mobile marketing promotions for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Unilever, The Walt Disney Co., Universal Studios, TNA Entertainment LLC, and the NCAA. Even more remarkable, most of these promotions have been held in the last six months.

"We used to include several multimedia services, but the demand for mobile in the last six months has convinced us to specialize," says Willis. "Even our Web site services is focused on integrating other promotions or adding sites specifically for mobile phones. We're able to build in almost anything ... streaming video, live events, and database collection."

Highlights Of What Is Possible And On The Horizon

• Employee text message databases to help fill shifts and coordinate
• Pairing club cards with consumer databases to message customers on site
• Mobile coupons with text or bar codes that can be scanned from the phone
• GPS technology to identify and message select consumers based on proximity
• Send friends or customers for customized voice messages from celebrities
• Send friends or customers prepaid ringtones as gifts or for any other reason

Monday, February 16

Measuring Communication, Realization Part 1

Advertising is long overdue for a transition and Anheuser-Busch is one marketer that seems to be on the front end of the change. While a recent article in AdvertisingAge focuses mostly on how Anheuser-Busch is changing its compensation model, there is something else in the air.

"Every time you have another agency work on a brand, the brand gets reinvented a little bit. We want partner agencies really tied to the strategy of a brand." — Keith Levy, vice president of marketing, Anheuser-Busch

He might have used different terms, but what Levy said falls lock step with the need for communication (advertising, marketing, public relations, and social media) to reinforce intent. Contrary to some advertising agencies, it is not enough to differentiate the advertising. It takes hard work.

How do you realize intent in communication?

Once the intent of communication is understood, its ability to be effective is dependent on three critical considerations: the effectiveness of the value proposition (message), the suitability of delivery (suitability), and the ability to reach the intended public (reach).

Let's start with the message.

The concept of a unique selling proposition or unique selling point was first introduced in the early 1940s by Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates & Company. His main concept was simple enough — drive home a central, research-based selling point that was powerful enough to convince customers to switch brands.

For the most part, it works. Head & Shoulders helps you get rid of dandruff. Olay gives you younger-looking skin. Red Bull gives you wings. And in all three cases, these messages come from the mission, market opportunities and product contrasts, and purpose of communication.

What happens when if they don't? They miss their opportunity to define what they do. For example, one of my favorite creative commercials missed communicating intent in 2000. The "Cat Herders" spot was memorable. But Electronic Data Systems (EDS), the client, not so much.

This challenge is not exclusive to advertising. We see it in public relations when people become focused on column inches over their public and publicity stunts go horribly wrong. We see it in social media when casual conversations lead to communication that the participants never intended and then overshadows everything else about them. Indeed, when a message lacks purpose, it's wasted communication.

On average, it takes 80 impressions before a message begins to stick (although I've seen figures that suggest it takes as many as 240 impressions in our communication cluttered world). And it takes 640 impressions to change an impression (given that it takes eight positive impressions that stick to undo one negative impression). Can you afford too many negatives?

Effective communication tends to reinforce the same consistent messages over and over again. That doesn't mean the message has to consist of the same words. But it does mean companies cannot afford to waste messages that do not include a value proposition. In other words, when that little flake is telling you something, an effective message leads you to one conclusion.

That's not to say that the value proposition concept doesn't have detractors. Some might argue that products are not all that unique (including me, unless we work harder to find real contrasts) so the value proposition only sells perception. After all, Head & Shoulders is no longer the only dandruff shampoo. And while that might be true, I might suggest where value propositions only erode over time because they were never meant to be permanent.

How can they? Messages do not just come from us. They are also delivered by what we say about others, what others say about us, and what our competitors or other stakeholders say about themselves in the market. If one message takes hold, then it requires adjustment at the strategic level not just the tactical.

Las Vegas recently provided an excellent example. The city's message conveys a party town atmosphere. It frequently takes an in-your-face attitude, even having a tuff or two with the NFL along the way. Recently, President Obama said Las Vegas is too lavish for business. Chicago immediately pushed the message that Chicago does not have such a stigma.

While I don't agree with the politics that created the situation, Las Vegas will still have to reconsider its message. Effective communication is never about control as much as it's about message management. When your value proposition becomes a negative, it needs to change. Of course, President Obama and Chicago might have to reconsider their messages too.

The bottom line, in terms of measuring communication, it that a strong message — one that breaks through the clutter while delivering a value proposition that reinforces intent — adds weight to the effectiveness of the communication. The right message is much more likely to deliver a better return on investment regardless of how it's delivered across various mediums.

How much better? When you think of Head & Shoulders, you might think of a dandruff solution. And when you think of EDS, you might think of herding cats. The message makes the difference.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

Friday, February 13

Unconditioning Fear: Change The Communication

"What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" — Haw

The quote, of course, comes from New York Times business bestseller Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson. It's a good question to ask nowadays, especially with so many people settling into the notion that there is no more new cheese so we all have to protect the cheese we've got.

In fact, most people, including business managers and government officials, seem to be sitting around waiting for new cheese to magically turn up. Some people, like many economists, are saying we're going to run lower, and perhaps out, of the little cheese we have left. And President Obama seems to think that nobody has any cheese so we all better panic.

“The federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life,” he said.

"What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" — Haw

In the parable, Haw realizes that it's better to start looking for new cheese than to worry about the cheese that dwindled away. And eventually, Haw begins to slowly lose his fear as he finds little bits of cheese here and there. The more often he succeeds, the more he learns "when you move beyond your fear, you feel free," until he finds bigger and bigger supplies.

But what if Haw had a strong influencer? What if Hem, who was Haw's friend, did more than stick to his victimized mindset and stay behind? What if every time Haw tried to leave in search of new cheese, Hem shocked him with a cattle prod? ZAP!

We already know what would happen. We know that the fear of a negative reinforcement, such as an electric shock, can condition people like Haw, in order to avoid the electric shock, do whatever Hem wants. And if Hem decides he doesn't want Haw to do anything, then he could simply shock Haw frequently and unpredictably until Haw didn't move at all.

It's called learned helplessness. It comes from constant and unpredictable jolts. It comes in the form of fear communication.

"What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" — Haw

Sure, fear can be a powerful motivator in developing awareness. For example, we used the fear of losing a child to develop awareness about pool safety in 2004.

Two years ago, we reworked a billboard originally developed for the United Way of Southern Nevada as a banner for a Bloggers Unite campaign. It used the fear of child abuse to raise awareness.

However, there is a down side to developing fear-based communication. Much like a cattle prod, too much can convince the public that the problem is TOO BIG to do anything about it. When that happens to a cause, people will stop trying to help. Learned helplessness.

So in 1999, we helped the United Way of Southern Nevada change the communication. Instead of fear, we focused on hope. "Great Results Start With U. United Way." Although it was later changed to simply "Great results start with you", it became the longest running, most successful campaign theme in the history of the organization (about seven years).

It worked because we changed the communication. We presented problems, but we also presented solutions made possible by the generous donations of people who supported the campaign. When we managed the campaign, the content usually presented how many people needed a particular service and how much supporters had already contributed to meet that need. Doing so placed goals within reach, motivating people to dig a little deeper and give a little more. We found the cheese.

"What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" — Haw

If you want real change, you need hope over helplessness. And that begins with changing the communication. Otherwise, worst-case scenarios like the one fictionalized by David Brooks with The New York Times could be proven true. And none of us wants that.

It doesn't really matter how you want to apply the message. As an individual or organization, business or industry, community or county, it all works. If you want better outcomes, change the communication. People want something to believe in, not something that reinforces this ridiculous notion that there is no more cheese.

Of course there is cheese to be found. Ignore the dudes with the cattle prods. And then move forward and find it.

Related reading:

NIH Public Access: Habituation of unconditioned fear can be attenuated by the presence of a safe stimulus

National Geographic News: Brain Region for Overcoming Fear, Anxiety Found

Breakthrough Blog: Overcoming fear in foreign policy

Utne Reader: Overcoming fear culture and fear itself

Thursday, February 12

Blacklisting Vegas: President Obama

According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), Las Vegas hosted 22,454 conventions and meetings that attracted more 6 million business people and conventioneers in 2008. It accounted for an economic impact of $8.5 billion, employed more than 46,000 Southern Nevadans (75,000 with indirect employment), and represents close to 15 percent of the city's total visitor volume.

On Monday, President Obama said he wanted to end that.

“We’re going to do something to strengthen the banking system. You are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you pay taxpayers back. You can't get corporate jets. You can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers' dime. There's got to be some accountability and some responsibility.” — President Obama, Town Hall discussion in Elkhart, Indiana

There does have to be accountability and responsibility.

"Mr. President, I understand the enormous burden you carry in dealing with the worst economy since the Great Depression. I also understand the need for accountability, but your comments are harmful to the meetings and convention industry as a whole and Las Vegas specifically." — Mayor Oscar Goodman, Las Vegas, Letter posted at Las Vegas Now

Careless research and ill-advised words damage lives.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, President Obama based his decision on a report that cited "$300 hotel rooms" as an example of extravagance. The Venetian, which is a more upscale property, lists rooms for $189 per night. The LVCVA reports the average room rate was $119.19 in 2008, with a low of $96.39 in December.

Specifically, businesses attend conventions and meetings in Las Vegas because of its room rate discounts, reasonable air fare, diversity of offerings, and the strong local infrastructure to support it. Since 2000, the city has gone to great lengths to carry a dual message that, despite its party town image, it is an extremely smart and cost-effective choice for business.

At least four major companies have already canceled their plans to meet or hold conventions in Las Vegas this year. Some of the cancellations have to do with the perception of Las Vegas, while others might be because of their own financial constraints. State Farm planned to book 11,000 rooms in September, but those rooms will now remain vacant. Wells Fargo, which received some bailout money, also backed out of a 12-day junket in response to cries that the meeting represents wasteful spending.

Unless replaced, the damage caused by these lost bookings could be severe to a local economy already experiencing a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, well ahead of the national average. It is anticipated to hit double digits this year, with the state facing a economic crisis, which began after it was hit especially hard by the subprime mortgage situation.

The campaigning needs to end and bailouts too.

During campaigns, politicians are sometimes quick to call out and vilify opponents, industries, and government. The message becomes simple. Everything is bad, and we need to change it all. While I'm not a fan of peddling fear, many campaign managers understand all too well that these trumped up rally cries can move certain publics to the polls.

However, once elected, most politicians are seasoned enough to understand that the communication needs to shift in order to govern. As elected officials, most know that effective leadership requires the polarization to stop and productivity to begin. They recognize that they no longer represent campaign slogans but rather the Wall Street stock broker in New York and the maid in Las Vegas and the automotive lineman in Detroit. They are no longer entitled to pick and choose which American people they represent. They represent us all.

Regardless of how you feel about Las Vegas, President Obama's message did not communicate anything about this city as much as it communicated something about the recent waves of bailouts and the stimulus package in general. The power of the purse is the ability of one group to manipulate and control the actions of another group by withholding funding, or putting stipulations on the use of funds. This power grab is alive and well in America.

After Monday, it now seems all to clear that President Obama is intending to use this power and perhaps abuse it, under the guise of protecting taxpayer money. However, in delivering this message, he neglects the obvious. The 46,000 Americans directly employed by the convention industry in Las Vegas are taxpayers too. They are owed an apology.

Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, February 11

Looking For Leadership: Engage Employees

As the economic downturn continues, employee engagement remains the critical component for companies to weather the worst and remain on track. It is not enough to simply demand more from top performers or expect employees to hang on with with the hope that job security seems safer than facing unemployment. Leaders need to energize the base.

Watson Wyatt, a global consulting firm, recently released a report that shows highly engaged employees are twice as likely to become top performers. They also miss 20 percent fewer days of work. And, three-quarters of them exceed or far exceed performance review expectations.

The benefits for highly engaged employees benefit the organization as a whole. Organizations with clear leadership and internal communication enjoy 26 percent higher employee productivity, have lower turnover risk, and have earned 13 percent greater total returns to shareholders over the last five years. They are also more supportive of organizational change initiatives, willing to get behind near-term plans even when they ask for sacrifice.

There are two catches. Executives need to be leaders more than managers. And, each organization requires its own plan.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to employee engagement," said Ilene Gochman, global practice leader for organization effectiveness at Watson Wyatt. "Segmenting the workforce and tailoring communication, performance management programs and other resources to specific employee groups is the most effective way to engage workers.”

• Capitalize on “engageable moments.” In the best of times, companies can most easily energize new employees. Currently, most companies do not. Even after six months, employees tend to be less motivated to do their best every day. Instead, especially at organizations with hiring freezes, challenging economic times can become the catalyst, assuming management hasn't settled into complacency.

• Demonstrate strong leadership and clear direction. As we recently mentioned, employees want to know about their organization’s specific plans and progress. "What plan" matters less than the fact there is a plan.

• Manage organizational change with effective communication. Especially in an economic crisis, employees are anxious to learn the rationale behind decisions. Authentic communication from senior management will give employees a sense of purpose.

• Emphasize customer focus. Employees are already aware that job security is strengthened by satisfied customers. The two challenges most leaders face is if employees are too focused on internal rumors (will there be more layoffs) or if employers are not providing employees enough support to satisfy customers.

• Invest in the core. One of the most interesting aspects of the study was the emphasis placed on energizing the base. Highly engaged employees that are already top performers can be limited by their less engaged co-workers. Companies need to establish engagement with more than 60 percent of the workforce before productivity shifts.

From our own research, the majority of organizations have settled into a "holding" pattern, attempting to wait out the economic crisis. This presents a tangible opportunity for companies that energized to turn the economic situation into a clear advantage. As simple as it might sound, the decision can be articulated in a few lines from Robert Frost.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

The only question that remains is which road will your organization take? Without question, the choice will make all the difference. Our company, fortunately, has already decided to take the one less traveled by. And, we recently were engaged by an organization to help them do the same. What about your organization? Wait and hold or engage and grow?

Related reading:

City of Collinsville: We work to bring the employees into the decision making.

Edleman: One in four employees will consider switching jobs when the economy picks up.

The Employee Factor: Employee engagement levels erode over time.

Compensation Force: Recession-driven sense of shared destiny - are we missing an opportunity?

Tuesday, February 10

Spinning Salmonella: Peanut Corporation of America

"PCA is second to nobody in its desire to know all the facts, and our team is working day and night to recall affected products and to complete its investigation." — Peanut Corporation of America

With the FBI issuing search warrants to assist the FDA in its ongoing investigation of the Peanut Corporation of America's (PCA) plant in Blakely, Ga., and corporate headquarters in Lynchburg, Va., it seems everyone wants to know the facts well ahead of "nobody."

Recently, the Associated Press reported that federal officials say the PCA knowingly shipped salmonella-laced products from its Georgia plant even after tests confirmed the contamination. Since federal law forbids producing or shipping foods that could be harmful to the public health, it also seems there will be charges.

Specifically, the FDA believes that the plant sold peanuts that tested positive for salmonella before receiving the second test and even after confirming salmonella was present. This is no longer a crisis communication case study as much as it seems to be a criminal investigation. Period.

How botched crisis communication is often indicative of cover up.

Some public relations specialists might be tempted to spin, but there is only one right answer when public safety is concerned. Tell the client or employer to come clean, immediately, with full disclosure and complete transparency. If they refuse, inform them that you are obligated to go forward without them.

We saw a similar case study unfold in the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada last year. The communication failed because there was only one thing to communicate — the bad practices were done, knowingly unsafe, in order to cut costs. In fact, the same might be said to Dr. Dipak Desai's attorneys. They claim Desai cannot testify after suffering two strokes. His inability to testify is still in question. Get it over with already.

While it is too early to say that the PCA operated with an equal and complete disregard for public health, the FDA is clearly moving in that direction. Even more interesting to us, the communication breakdown of both the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and PCA are surprisingly similar.

Ten similarities between the crisis communication breakdown at the Peanut Corporation of America and Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.

• At the onset, both owners aggressively defended their operations, claiming that every safety precaution was taken.
• Neither expressed remorse, regret, or empathy despite unsafe practices (until someone told them to express empathy).
• Both regretted having to take action, but did not express any regret for their responsibility in harming others.
• After new evidence surfaced that demonstrated it was an ongoing practice, virtually all communication was cut off.
• There was virtually no communication with employees as they were laid off; former employees then came forward.
• Neither offered any compensation for those affected by their negligence, which, in this case, included deaths.
• Neither expressed any desire to compensate anyone for pain, suffering, and anguish at being put in harm’s way.
• Neither would pledge that they and their management team would never work in the profession again.
• Both continually reinforced not everyone was affected, even when it meant neglecting those who were.
• Both attempted to draw out the investigations as long as possible; and both resisted while claiming cooperation.

While it is too soon to call this case over as criminal charges have yet to be filed (although it seems likely there will be charges), Stewart Parnell, PCA president, could likely join those who put pennies before public safety. And even if he does not, his peanut days are done. The PCA and its various direct-to-consumer brands have crashed.

It happened fast, but not over night. Like all brand failures, they usually erode one shaky step at a time.

Monday, February 9

Measuring Communication, Intent Part 3 (ROC)

According to Julia Hyde, people expect a "real" company to have printed sales literature (even online companies). Specifically, she says, every company needs a brochure if you want people to "know you mean business."

She then goes on to define twelve steps needed to produce the most effective brochure possible. Some points are better than others, but one key question is missing. What is the intent of the brochure? Since Hyde only provides one answer — to be credible — it seems she never really asked the question.

Most people never ask that question. It's apparent because most brochures start and end the same way — the presentation of a formulaic template, starting with "about us," following with "products" or "services," and concluding with "clients" or maybe "contact" information. Right on. Most Web sites read the same way.

If you want the right outcomes, ask the right questions.

Don't misunderstand me. Brochures, sales collateral, and Web sites can all be extremely useful. However, the better question is "what is the intent of the brochure?" as opposed to "what size brochure?" In fact, in asking this, the company might even decide there is a better communication tactic or tool for the intent of the communication.

The same can be said about the basic news release. The better question is "what is the intent of releasing this news?" as opposed to "what can we get in the news this week?" Or online, the question might be "what is the intent of the Web site?" as opposed to "how many search terms can we capture?" or "how cool can we make it look?"

While all communication tactics might be useful to companies, defining the purpose of the communication or campaign needs to be tied to the outcomes you hope to achieve. And, at the same time, whatever tactics are decided upon must still meet the objectives of the company, its communication strategy, and reinforce its brand equity in the short term.

If there is no intent, then any outcomes are nothing but luck.

For example, I often wondered what the intent of Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice gimmick was before it was disabled by Facebook.

If it was to give away free burgers, then maybe it worked. If it was to generate "online buzz" about Burger King, then I suppose it worked (except for the 233,906 people de-friended.) If it was to demonstrate the company's philosophical differences with Facebook, there is no question it worked. But other than meaningless intent, did it sell more burgers?

Did the free burger campaign only capture Burger King fans that would have bought one anyway? Did all the buzz drive McDonald's diehards to Burger King instead or make someone who eats one Whopper a week buy two the next week? Do anti-social campaigns reinforce the Burger King brand?

And for that matter, do people want to eat angry burgers? Take a look at the logic, and then maybe you can tell me. Or better yet, tell them. It's clear there was no intent whatsoever.

Defining the purpose of communication helps make it measurable

If your intent is to engage customers, then maybe a brochure can wait. If you want to establish an expert position in a market, then maybe a mass blast to journalists on the set schedule of eight releases per month (or whatever) contradicts that goal. If you want to attract prospects toward a sales funnel, then simply owning top searches (YahooBuzz, yesterday: Stimulus Package, Obama, and Jessica Simpson) that attracts everybody doesn't make much sense. (It might even make some of them mad.)

On the contrary, most companies simply need to connect with people who are looking to purchase a product or service that they offer (eg., Southwest Airlines vs. major airlines). Some companies have to change people's behavior to get them to purchase their product over another (e.g., iPhone vs. smart phones). A few companies need to sway public opinion so potential customers ask questions that will eventually lead them to the company (e.g., Subway vs. burger chains).

Can a brochure do this? Can scads of news releases? Can online buzz?

Maybe it can and maybe it can't. Or, to answer Karen Somerville's question "do micro sites work effectively in raising brand awareness and allowing content to be spread virally?" with some questions ... does the micro site even convey Burger King's brand? I see a logo, but the brand? And what is the intent anyway? Is it supposed to motivate people to do something related to the objectives of the company?

Sure, the original angry onion commercial made sense in terms of product branding. It was a new spicy burger. Got it. Nice creative too.

The micro site, on the other hand, had a flawed intent. The intent was to go viral. And that basically means the intent was to make noise. Right on, but making noise and buying a burger are different. Unless, of course, someone is counting this post among earned column inches. (Don't laugh. Someone is counting column inches on this blog and others. I assure you.)

More often than not, the "why" you need to communicate and the "what" you communicate, will dictate the "how" you communicate. So if the intent is to introduce something new (which the micro site does not), then that intent is different than than the objectives of increasing sales or capturing market share (which is what Burger King really wants to do).

Or, going back to the original example, when the intent of communication is to engage customers, then a brochure might not be the most effective communication tactic. And, if you really do need a brochure, then you might consider what outcomes you expect it to achieve. (To educate prospects about your products or services is not an answer.)

Maybe. But if you want to know the truth, most people who accept formulaic template brochures do so for one of four reasons: to show to the real decision maker (which means they need it for their credibility and not yours), to compare you to your competition (because you didn't close the deal), to remind them to visit your Web site (because they already know they won't remember you), or because it's a polite way to conclude the conversation. If you hope it does more, you need a better intent.

Next week, we'll begin exploring intent realization. There are other considerations to ensure intent measures up.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

Friday, February 6

Getting Personal: From Phelps To Psychology Today

"Like most Americans, and like Michael Phelps himself, we were disappointed in his behavior. Also like most Americans, we accept his apology. Moving forward, he remains in our plans." — Subway

The statement reportedly came late today after speculation that Subway intends to drop Olympian Michael Phelps' sponsorship deal. Apparently, Subway is simply pushing back promotion plans until the smoke clears.

Kellogg Co. (Kellogg's) was less understanding. Yesterday, it said it would not renew its sponsorship because of the photo. However, some speculate it was Honey Nut Cheerios that did him in last December.

Should Kellogg's Have Dumped Michael Phelps?

For all the kudos we gave Kellogg's in its handling of the peanut recall, it seems this one wasn't handled with the same crisis communication savvy. Regardless of how one feels about the Phelps photo and subsequent apologies, the Kellogg's contract was coming to a close anyway. It would have been best to let it close quietly.

Instead, the company's reaction to the photos has made Kellogg's the story. And I mean that very literally. Psychology Today made John Harvey Kellogg the story, apparently asking if Kellogg was consistent with the company's image.

Obviously, Kellogg's missed the research that suggests an image isn't what you say it is, but rather what other people say it is. They also missed that celebrity endorsements have always been a mixed bag. Now they've lost on this one, twice.

Meanwhile, comments of support continue to be left on Phelps' Facebook account after he posted his appreciation today:

Hey guys - thanks for your comments. I really appreciate you standing by me…this has been tough…I meant what I said, I made a mistake and I’m sorry. And for those who are mad at me or no longer support me, all I can say is I'm sorry.

This is in no way an expression of support for Phelps' actions. As our Fragile Brand Theory suggests: it is always more important to stick with your image — whether you choose a halo or horns — than the choice you make.

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