Showing posts with label reputation management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reputation management. Show all posts

Friday, March 9

Crafting Character: It Precedes Reputation

Copywriter Brian Beasley recently took exception to the rapid succession of corporate clients recruiting Charlie Sheen to appear in their advertisements. Both Fiat and Direct TV jumped on the measure of eyeballs as they are attracted to one of the top five ways to get media attention.

Beasley's beef is simple enough. Both accounts are elevating the bad boy image, something that is twice as likely to cause a brand blemish than it ever will to drive sales. I dunno. Time will tell whether the aging young gun and his horse have already become too well-worn to ride.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a lesson. And Sheen isn't the only example. 

There are an increasing number of people who are crafting all their communication to catch headlines. They usually do it by wrapping themselves up in the cloak of controversy. They do outrageous things. They say outrageous things. They single out other people and call for outrage.

Most of it is designed to get attention, and sometimes it is aimed at getting a rise out of someone else.

That's what all the flap about Rush Limbaugh was, right? That's why some people are taking shots at The Lorax, right? That's why atheist activist groups put up a slavery billboard, right? That's why the Irish are up in arms about Urban Outfitters, right? And that's why there is controversy over the controversy or lack of controversy about singer Lana Del Rey. Controversy is so commonplace, it's cliche and mostly boring.

Worse than that, people who use controversy too often become so associated with controversy that nobody hears what they are saying when they do have something to say. It's just more controversy.

You can't manage your reputation like you can maintain your good character.

Character is the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing. It's the real deal. Reputation is only what people see, regardless of what is lurking behind the shadows.

Do you remember the The Dead Zone with Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen? When Johnny Smith, played by Walken, shakes hands with a U.S. Senate candidate Greg Stillson, played by Sheen, he sees that this senator will one day become president and order a nuclear strike. Later, Smith botches an assassination attempt, but Stillson shows his character by taking refuse behind a baby.

Reputation is malleable, which is why people try to manipulate it. Character isn't so malleable, unless you make a conscious effort to change it. When you think about the character of people who create controversy or the people who create controversy by claiming someone else is doing something controversial, you see something entirely different than if you focus merely on reputation.

Charlie Sheen made headlines last year by nurturing his out-of-control self-destructive reputation. Since things have slowed down, he's back to cash in on it again, along with a handful of marketers and media outlets who all want to pretend it's unexpected. It's expected. It's boring. And I can't remember the car.

Tuesday, July 20

Warring Tribes: When Playground Fights Go Public

another blog drama
Ike Pigott had the best analysis of a recent online spat between two consultants. What's not to love about any post that resurrects Spike the Bulldog and Chester the Terrier?

I won't be so graceful. The brush-up between Kami Huyse and Peter Shankman is intriguing because it ends with two kids meeting up after school in the playground, encircled by their pre-pubescent friends, stomping their feet, clapping their hands, and chanting "fight, fight, fight!" It didn't start that way, mind you. Confrontation never does.

One tweet. One post. One response.

If you don't want to follow the links, it sums up in two or three graphs. Once upon a time, the most popular kid in school, Chris Brogan, bought shiny suspenders. So that made it fashionable for other kids to talk about their suspenders, belts, and fancy elastic bands too. Shankman included.

So, one day, Shankman shared the news about his shiny suspenders at PE class. After reflecting on this, Huyse went into the music room and said talking about what holds your pants up, on its face, is pretty silly. Then some kid, who probably doesn't have anything to hold his pants up, told Shankman that Huyse was talking smack about him. Shankman called her out and pushed her down. Dazed, Huyse said she wasn't talking about him, only suspenders (but what if she was, so what)?

Whack. Slap. Poke. Push.

And then, wow, everyone jumped in: Joe Ciarallo, Geoff Livingston, Aliza Sherman, Doug Haslam, Warren Whitlock, and a few others, not counting the comments, tweets, updates, and whatnot. It also doesn't count the dozen or so other posts that didn't make the first few pages of Google. It doesn't matter that Shankman later said he was being sarcastic.

That's how these spats are measured. Not in physical blows, but rather Google juice and search returns. The end result? Well, once Ciarallo threw in a third-party punch, all the positive ties between Shankman and Huyse (and there were a lot) shrank in importance. And that's why, these little spats, which on their face are pretty silly, were taken so seriously.

When Playground Fights Transcend Into Tribal Warfare.

Most playground spats never get all that much attention, but a few spiral out of control, including some that ended with the threat of legal litigation and the promise of physical violence (one of which we turned over to authorities). In such cases, perhaps the epic moniker might fit, with retellings of how Sparta dragged in the whole of Greece to defeat Troy.

The interesting thing about real tribal wars, however, is that most soldiers on the field don't know the circumstances. They simply raise their home banner and press forward with erroneous conjecture. And yet others jump in for any number of reasons much like Agamemnon did. He didn't care about the petty dispute as much as the excuse to gain more power.

If you are new to social media, you might as well know there is no way to avoid disagreement. Sooner or later, there will be a flare up. And with that in mind, here are a six friendly reminders that may help you keep playground antics in perspective.

1. Never write anything without the explicit understanding that you are inviting comment.
2. Never assume omitting a name will exempt you from a reaction by those who own the action.
3. Never respond to feedback when you are emotionally charged by the unexpected critique.
4. Always remember that the Internet isn't a private call. It's a party line and people take sides.
5. Always expect disagreements to eventually become a headline where you never imagined.
6. Always remember that, in time, most people regret what happened prior to the resolution.

Keep these tips in check and most discussions, even heated ones, will remain discussions. It's generally only the overreactions that attract the most attention to move friendly banter into something more akin to kennel noise or all-out tribal warfare.

Case in point, I can blame Brogan for everything that happened between Shankman and Huyse because it's funny to do so. I also know that Brogan can take a joke (if he even sees it). There won't be a flare up, let alone a tribal war. And even if he did comment (which is rare), it would probably be light.

Now, if only those who envy his suspenders would learn that lesson too. Then civility, even with debate, might be plausible. Yeah, right.

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Friday, August 7

Fearing Social Media: Executives

According to a new survey by Minneapolis-based Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law, fear continues to underpin companies considering social media.

• 51 percent percent of executives fear it will be detrimental to employee productivity.
• 49 percent fear that participation will likely damage company reputation.

Among companies that have not considered social media as part of their communication plan, it's much the same.

• 51 percent said they did not know enough.
• 40 percent said they are concerned with confidentiality or security.
• 37 percent said they worry it will be detrimental to employee productivity.

The reality of misplaced fear in the modern workplace.

As the adoption rate of social media as a critical component of any communication plan increases, all the attention seems to have catapulted social media to the top of many corporate fear factor lists. And, with the recent ban by the U.S. Marines, considering it the number one concern for decision makers certainly feels justified. Or is it?

While our company has long maintained fear itself is the underlying cause of most corporate meltdowns and lackluster results, placing social media at the top of the corporate fear list is preposterous. Here are the leading causes for lost employee productivity, reputation damage, and security threats:

• According to the Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, low employee morale and depression are the leading cause of lost employee productivity.
• According to an abstract by Elsevier Ltd. and several other studies, management credibility is the leading cause of reputation damage among companies.
• According to several studies by Deloitte, human error remains the leading cause of security threats over technology, with employee misconduct being the number one concern.

Are any social media fears justified on any level?

Not knowing enough about social media may be temporarily justifiable for slow moving companies (as too many jump in without any semblance of a plan), but the root cause for all other fears — productivity issues, reputation damage, and security threats — are almost always symptoms of internal communication problems and/or bad management.

In other words, the reason for not engaging in social media might even communicate more about a company or organization than had they ever engaged in the first place. How about your organization?

Wednesday, July 15

Paying Fines: Lifestyle Lift

According to The New York Times, Lifestyle Lift, a national cosmetic surgery company with 80 doctors working in offices spread across the U.S., settled with the State of New York over its attempts to fake positive consumer reviews on the Web. The company will pay $300,000 in penalties and costs to the state.

An "attempt to generate business by duping consumers was cynical, manipulative and illegal,” Andrew M. Cuomo, New York’s attorney general told The New York Times.

The $300,000 in penalties and fines will likely be the least of the company's damages. If the Mich.-based company felt negative reviews hurt its reputation as reported, the damage caused by fake reviews will become a blemish that will be hard to overcome.

Adding insult to self-inflicted injury, the attorney general’s office shared one e-mail that instructed employees to "devote the day to doing more postings on the Web as a satisfied client.” Thomas Seery, founder of, where Lifestyle Lift has more than 18o negative reviews, called it right when he said "It’s an incredible violation of consumer trust and it’s a pernicious element of the Web that some companies have embraced this idea, under the guise of reputation management.”

Make no mistake, writing a fake review is not reputation management, especially from a company that carries a "Truth In Medicine" paragraph on its Website. It also pledged that "all Internet communications accompanied by the trademarked Lifestyle Lift logo are fair and accurately represent the latest in medical information about facial firming procedures."

Faking The Net Is No Way To Manage Communication

When a company is bombarded with hundreds of negative reviews, the temptation to fake reviews might be overwhelming.

It's especially true when some reviews include comments such as "I am getting depressed and worry about looking like a freak forever," "My scars are not so bad, but my sister's scars seem to move away from the ear line to the center of her cheek as time goes by," and "My mother has horrible scars from this & her ears are numb. She also has severe pain, constant pain." All of them include procedural costs that ranged from $1,500 to $8,000.

And while the Website claims "satisfying clients has led to unparalleled growth," a simple Google search seems to reveal a different explanation all together. Websites and/or affiliate program sites here, here, here, and here seem to be the sad secret to the its success. Assuming what seems like dozens of sites will eventually be removed, you can read more reviews uncovered by the Consumer Alert Report here.

The fallout doesn't seem to be limited to the practice. The Post-Standard included a local angle that alleges "Dr. Douglas W. Halliday, an ear nose and throat doctor with an office at 4939 Brittonfield Parkway, is listed on Lifestyle Lift's Web site as one of its physicians. Earlier this year, the state fined Halliday $20,000 after he was accused of injecting patients with an unapproved drug he told them was Botox."

When you add up all the damage done to this company in the months ahead, the original reviews and $300,000 fine will be miniscule when compared to the local journalist and consumer investigations of its doctors, more women with problems come forward to share their stories, other AG offices consider launching their own investigations, and a mostly unforgiving online public weighs in on what it thinks of astroturf.

Considering Lifestyle Lift doesn't seem to have any semblance of a crisis communication plan in place, we suspect it's a company in trouble. Its story, as once seen on Montel, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and even in an endorsement from David Griffin who appeared as a contestant on The Biggest Loser, will be replaced with another meaning all together.

Survivable? Perhaps a few months ago. Today? It will take a living case study to know.

Thursday, May 21

Policing Employees: Not Today; Tomorrow

According to a new Deloitte survey recently featured on The Wall Street Journal blogs, 60 percent of managers believe that businesses have a right to know how employees portray themselves or their companies on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

“While the decision to post videos, pictures, thoughts, experiences and observations is personal, a single act can create far reaching ethical consequences for individuals as well as employers," said Sharon Allen, chairman of the board, Deloitte LLP. "Therefore, it is important for executives to be mindful of the implications of this connected world and to elevate the discussion about the risks associated with it to the highest levels of leadership.”

The percentage is lower among employees but still significant. Forty-seven percent believed those managers might be right. However, that number dropped to 37 percent among workers ages 18-34.

It still raises an interesting question. Where does employer representation end and personal privacy end online? And can policing employee behavior backfire when breaches in ethical behavior or common sense are still dependent on titles? After all, the Domino's employees were fired. Yet John Mackey still helms Whole Foods.

Employees are currently left alone to figure it out

• 27% of employees said their companies talk about leveraging social media.
• 22% of employees said their companies have formal guidelines for their use.
• 22% of employees said their leadership team uses social networking to communicate.
• 17% of employees said their company has a program to monitor and mitigate risks.

Still, employees are aware their behavior can damage their companies. Seventy-four percent said it's easy online. For the full report, visit here. What do you think?

Thursday, March 26

Revealing Inconsistencies: Timothy Geithner

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner demonstrated why message consistency is important. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, he said the U.S. is "open" to a call for a new global currency to replace the U.S. dollar.

"We’re actually quite open to that suggestion — you should see it as rather evolutionary rather building on the current architecture rather than moving us to global monetary union," Geithner said, saying it deserved consideration.

Except, um, the U.S. is not.

"I don't believe there's a need for a global currency," said President Barrack Obama, rejecting a new global currency to replace the dollar at a press conference 24-hours before Geithner spoke.

The consequences of the Geithner gaffe led to the dollar immediately falling on world currency markets. In fact, it fell 1.3 percent against the euro within 10 minutes of his remarks.

It also opened a renewed flood of criticism over the Obama administration's plan to increase the budget deficit this year to 10 percent or more of the gross domestic product, with the most outspoken being Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. He described the current U.S. policy as "a road to hell." He has since tendered his resignation, but will retain the E.U. presidency through June.

China is not alone in alluding to an abandonment of the U.S. dollar as it expresses worry over higher budget deficits resulting from increased spending. Russia has been pressing G20 members for a single world currency for some time.

This is also not the first time Geithner and President Obama had directly contradicted each other. Nor is it the only time the new administration has sent mixed messages nationally and internationally.

In fact, the current U.S. policy seems to be a contradiction in itself. While Geithner plans to impose government control over financial markets to "decide how much risk to take in the pursuit of profit," President Obama's policy races toward extreme spending, which carries overwhelming risk.

All of it demonstrates a growing communication challenge exhibited by the new administration. While always reasonably adept during the campaign trail to deliver a unified message, the President seems incapable of delivering a consistent message with his administration. And you know what that usually means. If there isn't a consistent message, then there likely isn't a cohesive plan, at least one that everybody knows about or anyone can agree on.

It applies to business communication as well. Inconsistent communication is often a symptom of something else, much like that initial sniffle before you feel sick. Someone might want to pass the administration a tissue. It seems to be going around.

Tuesday, March 24

Ghosting Content: Guy Kawasaki

Dave Fleet, a communications professional with a passion for social media, has been writing about the ethics of ghost writing online content for some time. So it was no surprise to see another excellent write up about Guy Kawasaki, creator of Alltop and Truemors, who has three other people writing for his Twitter account. The post includes a direct response from Kawasaki.

Fleet: Do you feel it is misleading to have other people write under your name on Twitter?

Kawasaki: Nope–especially because I don’t hide the fact.

Whether or not it is ethical to ghost write online content is a conversation that continues to sweep across the surface like a tsunami. It often has more power on the back end than the front end. It's one of those topics that I've been meaning to tackle for some time, but my motivation to address what amounts to "no win" discussion frequently wanes with the realization that it seems more futile than fortuitous to do so.

The entire topic seems futile because its based on a perceptional ethical high ground that dismisses a virtual flood of reality. And that reality is a tremendous portion of all communication from individuals was written by someone else. From single line quotes in news releases and brochures to legislative bills and speeches delivered by heads of state.

My personal position is simple enough. I discourage it, but without any of the fervor that sometimes accompanies my colleagues' comments on the subject. I find it too difficult and even hypocritical to judge those who would ghostwrite posts given that my words have fallen under the byline of thousands (except posts and social media accounts), and even people who know me well would be hard pressed to find similarities between this one or that one or that one or this one. But never mind me for a moment. It might be more useful to establish an understanding.

The Three Most Common Positions On Ghosting Posts.

Rampant Acceptance. While it was written almost three years ago, the comment section of a post written by Debbie Weil for the IAOC is pretty revealing. Several writers chimed in with a sympathetic tone for ghostwriting, though several mentioned some expectation that they would be squashed with ridicule and shame based on references from 2005 and earlier (just to show you how long this dusty old topic has been kicked around).

Qualified Acceptance. Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, says, with the exception of Twitter and rigid guidelines, that "only the purist assumes ghostwriting is wrong."

Genuinely Unacceptable. Beth Harte warns writers away from the practice because of the presumption that consumers will consider it a fake blog upon discovery. She's not alone. Plenty of people consider it unethical.

The Long And Tired History Of Debate

No one can move forward in a discussion that doesn't account for history. The simple explanation is that early blogging was considered spontaneous broadcast over transplanted professional print, with the earliest participants being regular people rather than professionals.

In some cases, these regular people have since surpassed early adopters with backing of the extensive professional networks, speaking engagement promotions, and ability to game most measurements under the guise that their memes were somehow more important than those originally cooked up by regular people. (I might also note that many of these early personal pioneers consider the very ideal of professional blogging unethical on its face too.)

As such, it's not surprising that regular people set the tone for online presentation. And there decisions were adopted, in part, by the earliest professional participants who decided that it was okay to use blogging as a professional communication platform while accepting the concept that the communication remains pure, unedited, and raw. Of course, the reality is that for most non-communicator professionals, pure, unedited, and raw is a recipe for disaster. After all, it is primary reason there are multiple professions built around communication — marketing, advertising, public relations, real time, whatever.

In other words, it's not necessarily practical for every online participant to craft their own message or pen their posts on their own. Thus, the medium became less associated with spontaneous broadcast and more associated with planned communication, enough so that some people consider every post to be critical to personal and corporate branding. So, allowances were made to have professionals vet the content, edit the copy, and otherwise polish it up much like many letters, emails, press release quotes, and other collateral.

As soon as these editing allowances came into play, so too did the many shades of gray that encompass what is often presented as a black and white issue that asks "is ghostwriting posts ethical or not, pick one."

It's impossible to pick one with any moral and ethical certainty, given that "ghostwriting" has been defined as everything from casual edits and complete rewrites to written with review and unapologetic adoptions of an entire persona a la C.D. 'Charlie' Bales. And that said, I recognize that no one will ever agree on where to draw the line and it's likely most lines are situational.

The Bottom Line On Ghostwriting Posts.

Personally, I discourage ghostwriting posts, specifically the "written with review" or "unapologetic adoption of an entire persona" solutions, and consider it a step down from that to think ghostwriters are working for people on Twitter, which is even closer to a broadcast medium and often solicits representative conversation much like comments. However, I see it this way not because it's unethical as much as it's not needed, when the only apparent benefit to do so is being ever present.

However, I am not surprised Kawasaki uses ghostwriters. His social media strategy is a system and has always been a system. So while it would be bothersome if one of his ghostwriters was singing the praises of authenticity, disclaimer or not; I'm not in a position to question his intent. Only he (and Bales) can do that.

So, is that the bottom line? Not exactly.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.“ — William Shakespeare

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

Friday, January 23

Moving Forward: How To Manage Criticism

Lauren Vargas, principal of 12Comm Public Relations, calls them killer bees or "jackals feeding off the blood and weakness of others." Valeria Maltoni, who writes the Conversation Agent (among other things), calls them seagulls — those who fly in, make a mess, and fly out again. And Umesh Sharma, clinical psychologist, includes not being a critic among his secrets for a stress-free life. Critics are like needles in a balloon factory, he said.

There is certainly some wisdom in their words. Seagulls and bees or needles and jackals don't make the most pleasant company. However, as Vargas points out and Maltoni has too, constructive criticism is not only welcomed, it's needed.

That leaves some communicators in a quandary. How do you tell the bees from butterflies and seagulls from eagles?

After all, very few people really like criticism, but everyone offers it from time to time. In fact, our aversion to it tends to be a prominent social media discussion point any time I speak with business people. "What if someone says something bad about us?" they ask.

I generally muse that people probably are already saying something bad about them, they just don't know it.

After all, the most common question after a dinner, show, movie, book, product, new car, etc. is "How did (or do) you like it?" or "What did you think?" One of the benefits — or setbacks — of social media is that it amplifies these criticisms from private conversations to public discourse. In some cases, it can even cause a crisis.

Personally, I consider it a benefit, but not all people do. So regardless of how you feel, what's a communicator to do?

1. Recognize the difference between critics and cynics. Critics strive to be open, objective, and offer suggestions for improvement or make an effort to understand various points of view. Cynics generally are closed, biased, and reject that any merit exists or tend to promote their point of view while dismissing the validity of any other. They deserve different approaches.

2. Distinguish criticism about something and criticism about someone. Valid criticism, even if you do not agree with it, tends to focus on the situation, work, or action. The worst criticism presents judgements about specific people. Care what people think, but don't care so much about what they think about you.

3. Consider the intent of constructive criticism and negative feedback. The intent of negative feedback, even if it appears offensive, or constructive criticism, which is generally non-confrontational, is to provide guidance. Even when comments seem inappropriate, focus more on the message and not the delivery.

4. Distinguish the difference between communication and diatribe. Someone opening up a conversation that makes us feel uncomfortable might even be an asset. Diatribe, on the other hand, does not promote conversation or communication. It aims to shout the other person down (sometimes by encouraging others to do it).

5. Recognize that cynicism communicates more about them than you. While criticism can sting if it is well presented, cynicism says more about them than it does you. Even when real time situations seem to favor emotional aggressors, post- event analysis tends to favor a steady hand. How you respond will always overshadow what is being critiqued.

If you don't manage the message, the message will manage you.

Communicators have to accept that we cannot control what other people say or do. We can only manage what we say or do, even when we are responding to what others have said. Planned action is always better than unplanned reaction. In fact, in preparing for such instances, the first person we need to consider is ourself. Are we oversensitive to criticism?

While I'm not a fan of psychological self-tests, I did vet one at Psychology Today for this post. It asks: Are you sensitive to criticism? Can you handle negative feedback or do you find you have to resist the urge to bite your critic's head off? Try it out. (The summary is free; the full analysis, which didn't seem necessary, carries a fee.) The exercise itself might be eye-opening.

Once you do, then consider the closing quote from author William Arthur Ward. Because if he were alive today, he might artfully remind people that how one receives and interprets criticism or cynicism is the key to being an effective communicator. He might also note that even the most practiced communicators, when confronted with criticism, tend to respond (or encourage others to respond on their behalf) much like the critics they profess to dislike.

"In the face of unjust criticism, we can become bitter or better; upset or understanding; hostile or humble; furious or forgiving." — William Arthur Ward

Friday, December 19

Thinking Internal: Watson Wyatt Study

Never mind external communication for a minute, think internal too. According to Watson Wyatt, more than one in five companies (23 percent) plan to make layoffs in the next 12 months, with almost two in five (39 percent) reporting that they have already done so. But layoffs aren't the only concern employees have.

Hiring freezes also jumped from 30 percent in October to 47 percent this month. Eighteen percent are planning a hiring freeze in the next 12 months. Salary freezes jumped from 4 percent in October to 13 percent. And 61 percent are revising merit budgets. Other changes include any combination of the following: travel restrictions, benefit reductions, restructuring, reduced training, health premium increases, and salary reductions.

“All indications are that 2009 will be a difficult year for both companies and ultimately employees,” said Laura Sejen, global director of strategic rewards consulting at Watson Wyatt. “It will be up to employers to find an effective way to manage this challenge by balancing their financial situations with the likely impact on employee engagement.”

Watson Wyatt's report encourages employers to help mitigate the effect of any decision by considering employee morale, including: choosing the greatest cost savings while doing the least damage to the company's employment brand; communicating extensively and frequently; differentiating bonuses and pay increases; and heightening employee recognition programs. Here are some additional tips from employee communication programs we have developed with several companies over the years:

• Educate supervisors about any upcoming changes first. Not only are employees likely to go to them with questions first, such meetings also provide a forum to prepare for any unforeseen questions.

• Allow supervisors to communicate the basics. Studies consistently conclude that employees trust face-to-face communication the most, and look to their immediate supervisors as the most credible source of information.

• Demonstrate consistency in communication. Depending on the changes being made, employ the company's standard communication model (face to face, video conference, etc.) as a means to connect employees to top executives.

• Provide employees with written material. The outline should include why changes are occurring, what changes are being made, the rationale behind those changes (it will save jobs), and a defined timeline for communication updates.

• Establish clear lines of two-way communication. When employees have questions their supervisors cannot answer, scale for appropriate contacts, such as designated human resources personnel and/or high level management. Collect feedback and address concerns in follow-up communication.

• Communicate straight. Provide employees with clear expectations of what the changes mean, what management expects to happen, what management expects to do if it does not happen, and the frequency of updates to come.

• Notify all external stakeholders as appropriate. Provide a consistent message, including to the media if appropriate, with similar commitments to keep communication candid, open, and honest. In every case, communication should flow from the inside of the company, out.

• Follow up the communication frequently. Communication from supervisors should be reinforced by other established communication channels (eg. bill inserts, newsletters, bulletins, etc.), demonstrating the progress of the plan. (Avoid e-mail notifications as electronic communication elicits stronger emotions and has a higher risk of being forwarded.)

• Increase management visibility. Change represents an opportunity for management to establish trust with employees. It is especially worthwhile for upper management to visit departments to recognize top performers and teams.

While one Gallup poll pinpointed that employees are hoping to be reassured that they have "stability, trust, hope, and compassion," the word to remember is empathy. Understanding a person's experience by sharing that experience, especially in regard to layoffs or temporary cutbacks, can help communicators and management avoid breakdowns that leave management appearing unconcerned and untrustworthy.

Keep in mind, like all communication, communicating change is not a cookie cutter operation. It is a process that guides communicators through a series of steps, allowing them to make situational adjustments. Almost every company culture is slightly different.

More importantly, internal communication remains top of mind because no amount of external communication can reverse employee morale once it is damaged. In some cases, the effects of improper communication won't be felt until an economic turnaround, when disengaged employees will quickly leave. Where will they go? Somewhere that has created a climate of trust.

Wednesday, September 17

Communicating Politics: Has The Bar Dropped?

It’s a good thing I watched the John Adams miniseries this summer because I might otherwise believe it when many news outlets call the 2008 elections the dirtiest, ugliest, and meanest in history.

Somehow, for me, being reminded that Jefferson vilified his longtime friend and colleague Adams in 1800 or that Jefferson himself was later vilified by his political opponents, helps keep things in perspective. Joseph Ellis, in his book The Revolutionary Generation called this rivalry unequalled in terms of “shrill accusatory rhetoric, flamboyant displays of ideological intransigence, intense personal rivalries and hyperbolic claims of imminent catastrophe.”

Although, when you think about it, Ellis really could be writing about 2008, with the only notable difference being that many poorly executed ideas like Obama Waffles or the now debunked claims by the DailyKos that Sarah Palin faked her pregnancy are often beyond either campaign team’s control.

Much more manageable are the messages being put into play by both campaigns. Obama’s claim that McCain votes 88 percent of the time with President Bush is disingenuous at best, given that the reality is Obama and McCain voted together nearly as much. And, I’ve already commented on the McCain team’s silly Obama is like Paris Hilton comparison ad. Both were wrong. Both were ineffective. Both backfired.

The excuse? Everywhere I look, “they’ve” lowered the bar “first” seems to be the prevailing mantra. Yet, nothing could be further from reality. Somebody, eventually, has to be the better person and not expect voters to ferret out the truth on their own, just as I’ve been advising closer to home. As expected, the nasty national tactics have been spilling over into local and state races.

“The Nevada Democratic Party is showing an analogous moral bankruptcy in its effort to oust state Sens. Joe Heck and Bob Beers because it must believe the end — returning the upper house to the Democrats for the first time in 18 years — justifies the execrable means.” — Jon Ralston, Las Vegas Sun

Ralston is referring to a smear campaign being promoted by the Nevada State Democratic Party to help lift up their candidate who professes not to know who is behind the campaign (um, the same people financing her). yet, she is more than happy to benefit from it. You can find one example of the fictitious campaign claims on another local blogger’s site. You can find the truth here or here.

Since the campaign was launched, several communicators have asked me what do you do when the opposition intends to spend $1 million on a mountain of lies? Don’t you hit back?

Sometimes you want to, but that’s no answer. Reactionary communication is not very effective communication. So as much as the media loves to cover such conflict, there is only one remedy for political campaign lies, in my opinion. It requires more and more truth. And that is what Sen. Beers is doing.

Now, only if national campaigners would learn, because they have set the bar lower and some local campaigners seem to have set the bar even lower than that. Enough so, that I’ve already told most of my friends that I’m not making any national election decisions until after the debates and asked some not to subscribe to or promote sound bites from either side until it can be verified as fact.

Otherwise, we risk making liars of ourselves, even if it seems justified by the audacious notion that the sun will not rise on Nov. 5 if the other candidate is elected. On the contrary, the sun will rise.

The sun will rise on Nov. 5 just as it did on July 4, 1826, after two longtime adversaries realized that for all their wanted differences, the rest of the world perceived them to be largely the same. And “Thomas Jefferson survives.”


Wednesday, September 3

Branding Employees: Chapel vs. Dell

While Tamera Kremer at Wildfire was covering the debate between RichardatDell and the fictional AmandaChapel on the value of making brand ambassadors out of employees, Adweek was covering Zappos has already moved full steam ahead and is one of many companies that already consider employees brand ambassadors online.

In fact, according to the story, the vast majority of trial and repeat business at is driven by word of mouth and employees. Brian Kalma, director of creative services and brand marketing, employs the term "people planning," arguing that each employee needs to be a great point of contact with customers.

Indeed. So where is the debate?

Based on the comments on Wildfire, it seems Chapel was taking the position that “front-line folks that you’ve assigned to the ‘conversation’ on Dell’s behalf, particularly your Twitter social-media team, are making a complete mess of it.”

Richard has defended the Dell position by saying “We believe that social media helps us foster direct relationships, not just transactions with our customers. Think about your own customer relationships and to what extent they rely on the personal and professional interactions that you have.”

Amazingly, the debate seems to have some social media participants questioning the need to distinguish personal and professional brands online, a notion that seems contradictory to any sense of transparency that social media practitioners claim is critical to success. As I noted on Twitter, "trying to separate personal and professional brands is like arguing that you are a different person when you wear jeans or a suit." We can pretend people are somehow different, but it’s really not true.

Still, that is not to say employees acting as brand ambassadors can enjoy a free-for-all online. Common sense suggests if you wouldn’t say something to a customer offline, it’s probably a good idea to avoid saying it online, where it can be archived forever.

Look offline for online behavior guides.

This isn’t rocket science. The best companies already know that employees tend to be the best brand ambassadors, provided the company benefits from a strong internal communication program.

One of the examples I frequently share in explaining the impact of external public relations on internal audiences is how two different utility rate cases turned out. Without sharing the specifics here, one company started with a proactive internal communication program so by the time the rate case hit the papers, employees could explain the reasons behind the rate increase with friends, family, and neighbors. The other did not. The results were dramatically different, with one rate increase succeeding and other quickly turning into a crisis.

My point is simple enough. Front line employees have always been brand ambassadors. It’s not a new concept. So maybe the real question is: do companies realize blogging is front line communication and are they educating their employees well enough for them to deliver a return? Apparently, Zappos does.


Monday, May 5

Challenging Good Deeds: Fragile Brand Theory

Unilever, maker of several leading consumer products including Dove soap, recently learned that no good deed goes unpunished. They now know better than most: attempting to maintain a brand as a good corporate citizen and environmentally friendly company is a tricky business these days.

Despite scoring at the top of global ethical and sustainability indexes during the last year, and being considered a company that takes environmental issues seriously, Unilever continues to be the target of Greenpeace because it buys palm oil from other companies that are destroying the rainforest, which is also endangering Indonesian orangutans.

Unilever is not alone. According to Greenpeace, the world's largest food, cosmetic, and biofuel companies are driving the wholesale destruction of Indonesia's rainforests and peatlands through growing palm oil consumption. In a report, Greenpeace predicts the demand for palm oil will double by 2030.

For an Advertising Age article, Greenpeace said it did not single out Unilever because of its high-profile environmental and social stances, but added that there “was an element of greenwash there.” In fact, he said, Proctor & Gamble and Nestle may be the next targets.

”Most activists of whatever persuasion on whatever issue tend to believe that they get most traction (and news coverage) by aiming at the biggest name rather than the biggest challenge," a Unilever spokeswoman e-mailed Advertising Age. "In most instances, it seems that the biggest 'name' tends to be the one that has done the most to attack the ... problem."

From a communication perspective, the spokesperson’s e-mail interested us the most because it supports our fragile brand theory, which suggests: the further perception travels from reality or the more unsustainable it might be, the greater the potential for brand damage. Overreach too much and, eventually, the brand might face total collapse.

It doesn't always matter that there are companies with much more environmentally or socially deplorable practices than Unilever. However, those companies do not receive a brand boost from the perception that they might be green.

So maybe it’s not always that activists are after the biggest names. They are after the biggest contrasts between perception and reality.

Our environmental policy sets out our commitment to meet the needs of consumers and customers in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner, through continuous improvements in environmental performance. — Unilever

In reading through the company’s environmental policy, it does seem to achieve some goals (packaging reduction, for example) better than others. Specifically, the policy states that the company aims to “ensure the safety of its products and operations for the environment” and will be “exercising the same concern for the environment wherever we operate.” If they are enabling foreign suppliers to do the opposite, then Unilever is not meeting those standards. That’s a problem, but not only in action.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making a case against Unilever as much as I am making a case for communicators to resist messages that overreach. The truth is that relatively few companies (and even fewer people) can produce a perfect environmental scorecard.

All I'm suggesting is that we don't claim to be avid recyclers if we’re sharp on putting newspapers in the bin but shoddy on plastic bottles (because they have to be rinsed out). Authenticity simply suggests that we stop at touting our efforts at paper products if that is the case.


Wednesday, April 30

Rolling Dice: Crisis Communication Meltdown

Following the crisis that surrounds the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada over the last several months has been an exercise in evaluating futility. It can best be likened to crisis communication and common sense gone horribly wrong, with dozens involved in making decisions that resemble games of chance.

For example, the majority of physicians who helped Dr. Dipak Desai create a multi-million dollar gastroenterology business, which was closed after causing the largest hepatitis C scare in the country, are reportedly working together to reestablish practices in southern Nevada. Their decision has left the community perplexed.

The few who would comment might have refused to speak about the past and ongoing investigation, but were happy to offer that they wanted to “
get back to the community and give good quality medical care. Our patients deserve the best.” According to the story, at least three clinics may be opened by former Desai physicians.

For example, while no one had reported questionable procedures at the clinics, the investigation has revealed several nurses had complained and at least one quit on the same day she started. In addition to original reports of unsafe injection practices, the investigation has revealed that devices put in patients’ mouths for some procedures as well as single-use biopsy forceps that snip tissue were being reused.

These findings came after a poorly thought out full-page advertisement taken out in the Las Vegas Review-Journal last March. Since, most decisions seem to have followed public outcry.

For example, legislators seem to have prompted the state Board of Medical Examiners to take action after almost two months. The state’s attorney general just recently filed complaints against Desai and Dr. Eladio Carrera, another of the one of four co-owners, on behalf of the board. Both doctors were directly linked to patients who were infected. Desai had voluntarily stopped practicing medicine during the investigation weeks ago.

However, the once prominent physician continues to make decisions that further erode his credibility. The latest speculation, according to the Las Vegas Sun is that Desai may attempt to flee the country while multiple agencies continue their investigation.

The speculation arose after sources said Desai took ownership of two leased Mercedes-Benzes so they may shipped to the country of Dubai. While authorities have not charged Desai with any crime, authorities have flagged his passport, asking that they be notified if he tries to leave the country.

Sometimes public relations practitioners liken crisis communication to proper spin and damage control, rolling the dice on the location of press conferences or playing the “advice of legal counsel” card too frequently, when questionable actions — like shipping your cars off to another country — are patently more damaging than full disclosure.

Besides, sooner or later, public relations practitioners need to remember that reporters learn quick fix tactics as fast as professional dream them up. If you think they don’t know that press conferences are sometimes held across town to avoid on-site coverage, the only person you are really fooling is yourself.


Tuesday, November 20

Flying Cargo Class: The Airline Industry

Zagat Survey today announced the results of the 2007 Zagat Global Airlines Survey. Singapore Airlines took top honors as the best international economy class and Midwest Airlines pulled the No. 1 spot for domestic economy class again. Midwest Airlines has taken top honors in the past eight Zagat surveys; Virgin America and JetBlue Airways followed as No. 2 and 3.

While social media proponents might consider crowing that the number one and number two domestic Web sites both support well-planned blogs, the real communication lesson for the airlines comes from Zagat participant comments that pinpoint the state of the industry. Here are a few favorites:

“I’d rather be a package on FedEx.”

“The legroom is great if you’re a yard gnome.”

“Their planes make Larry King look young.”

“I thought the Geneva Convention prevented this kind of thing.”

“Only good thing about first class these days is that you get to leave the plane first.”


JetBlue continues to score big with its fans despite the “nightmare delays” last winter. But all is not bliss as public relations professionals like to claim. JetBlue continues to balance leather seats, satellite TV, and happy crews, and decent snacks against rising prices, limited routes, and points that expire.

Still, third is a long way from the bottom, an honor that belongs to U.S. Airways, which came in last among domestic airlines. (And Philadelphia International came in fourth from the bottom among airports.) Hmmm … I wonder why.

The survey covered 7,498 frequent fliers who rated 84 airlines and 46 major airports. Each airline was separately rated on its premium and economy service for both domestic and international flights. The typical survey participant took 19.7 flights in the past year aggregating 147,000 trips. For complete results from domestic and international carriers, visit Zagat.


Saturday, October 13

Recognizing Leadership: Social Media

The quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, determines the success or failure of an organization. — Fred Fiedler and Martin Chemers

All across the net — in forums, social networks, fan bases, and even well-read blogs — some people are elevated up by any number of measures and any number of reasons to become perceived leaders in their respective communities or industries.

And yet, unfortunately, when the concept of being a leader arises, whether sought after or rejected on its face, few realize it is not leaders that these varied communities and industries crave. It is leadership.

In June, a few fans, in consideration of my suggestions to promote fandom asked me how to organize a fan club. I obliged them, but was surprised by the response of some, who rejected the idea on its face because Jericho fans did not want any leaders. Off with any leaders’ heads, some said, we are all equal here.

What was missed is that I was not advocating for leaders as they defined the term as much as I was advocating leadership. The two are vastly different.

Leadership is not defined by power, privilege, rank, title, position, or authority. Leadership is a quality of action, one that rarely requires force of law, threat, manipulation, control, or the attempted shutdown of dissent. On the contrary, leaders welcome all parties, all views, and then effectively match those to organizational goals and not necessarily their opinions or preferences.

A successful leader transcends their personality in order to ensure any following is aligned to the organizational goals and not themselves as individuals. The very best of them continually challenge any followers to reach higher obtainable goals, encouraging them to apply leadership as well.

In social media, some bloggers, social network participants, forum administrators, group hosts, and even online talk show hosts become leaders either by pursuit of action, grant of title, or by default simply because others recognize them for their insights and expertise. Yet, relatively few recognize the role they have assumed or accept the responsibility of it. Fewer still have ever been exposed to the difference between leaders and those who think they are leaders.

You can tell which are which. Effective leadership looks for objectivity and truth, taking responsibility for their actions and win the hearts of any following. Whereas those who think they are leaders are subjective, obscure facts, and promote their own partisan interests and make demands while denying the role for fear of being held responsible or accountable. Sometimes, they attempt to force others to succumb to their will because of any number of erroneous qualifications: experience, seniority, title, rank, traffic, followers, friends, links, etc.

Leadership requires none of these things. Rather, it revolves around vision, motivation, inspiration, empowerment, and authenticity. And very likely, but not certainly, it seems to me that Jericho fans are well overdue to find those few who are capable.

If not, the craving for leadership will continually lead toward elevating those who are popular and not necessarily those who have the skill sets necessary. The results can be disastrous, as they have been for the last two weeks.

You see, there is a vast difference between those who start something, provide a forum to talk about something, and those who lead something. Last week, someone responded to me and said he did not want to be a leader. It reminded me of an episode in Jericho, when Gray Anderson was ready, once again, to relinquish authority to Johnston Green. Green basically told him to accept the responsibility or stand aside.

The lesson was as clear in the show as it is for fans today. As I opened, the quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, will determine the success or failure of a third season. Good night and good luck.


Tuesday, September 25

Measuring Buzz: Strategic Meets Social Media

It is no surprise to me that most social measures are misused. Many of the misconceptions mimic erroneous measures that are currently misapplied by the majority of public relations firms (not all of them) and ad sales teams.

By bridging traditional communication example with the current misapplication of measurement in social media, the error becomes even more apparent. We know a lot about that; we see it every day.

Buzz is the easy part.

In the late 1990s, my niche sub-consulting company did something out of the ordinary. We launched a split local/international trade publication for concierges and hospitality professionals.

At the time, the concierge profession was relatively new to Las Vegas, which had previously relied exclusively on VIP guest services (for guests who gambled a certain amount, based on coin in or average table wager). Between their interesting and sometimes funny stories (secrets inside Las Vegas and from around the world), front line customer service tips, and hospitality management content with interviews from key people within the industry, we had a hit concept — enough to score the front page of the Las Vegas Sun business section and dozens of write-ups in other publications.

This was a huge success because start-up publications are a dime a dozen in Las Vegas and established publications, not surprisingly, are usually unwilling to write about another upstart that might compete for advertising revenue. We were the exception.

But then again, we had a strategic plan, the right editorial mix, and knew how to communicate our message. In fact, some publishers not only gave us a leg up, but they also became content sponsors.

Buzz is not a measure.

Where the division between publicity and public relations sometimes lies is in the execution of the message and in what is measured. Had this public relations effort been measured by some firms, the measures would have been focused on the buzz.

Some might have counted column inches and reported that those column inches were worth the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars in advertising. They may have claimed that the number of “hits” the release received and media comments meant something.

They may have even claimed that they had “special relationships” with certain reporters to make sure the story got play. Or that if the release in its entirety, then that means something about the firm. Silly, I know.

Defining tangible measures.

All the media attention we received was appreciated, but not our measure. Sure, we tracked it, but that is only the tip of measurement ice berg. The real value was in tangibles like how many potential advertisers called to order one of the highest cost-per-impression publications anywhere? Several dozen.

And how well did these positive stories help establish our brand and reputation? Very well. And how many advertisers actually signed contracts? A few, but that was intentional. We only started the publication with 8 pages and didn’t have a whole lot of space to sell.

How did we do that? We had the daunting but doable task of killing the concept of cost per impression. What we had instead was something different. We calculated the value of concierge recommendations. In doing so, we discovered that concierge recommendations influenced approximately $1.2 billion in purchasing decisions in Las Vegas every year.

What does that mean? It meant concierges referred as many as 4,000 qualified buyers per month to a select retail stores, booked almost half of all reservations at select restaurants, and sent more than 2,500 additional participants to local events. These were not window shoppers. They were qualified buyers. Of course, being an advertiser was not enough to get this kind of traffic. The burden of meeting high concierge standards was still on the advertiser. (Of course, knowing key executives read the publication helped too.)

Drawing the comparison.

So what if this publication existed online today? What is a suitable measure? Link buzz? Cost per impression? Influence ranking? Click-throughs? The measurement comparisons are apparent.

Tangible results generated by our public relations effort would ultimately be the end result of receiving calls for advertisers (including the publications themselves). The measure of our media kit and sales team would be the number of qualified conversions (because we did not accept all advertisers). And for advertisers, the measure was in the number of qualified buyers recommended by a trusted source. Those are tangible measurements.

Key News * Las Vegas enjoyed a great run until we sold our rights (but the parties who bought it did not do anything with it). Five years later, we still receive calls from potential advertisers inquiring about purchasing an ad in a publication that grew from eight to 16 pages and from 500 to 10,000 hard copy and online readers. (We even had a function that was not dissimilar to a blog).

Eventually, we’ll duplicate these efforts again with someone. We just haven’t found the right partner or investor (which is secondary to our core business services). Of course, any new publication doesn’t have to be hospitality based nor would have to have the burden of expense that we had: printing and full-time designers are optional.


Monday, September 17

Walking Planks: Social Media Pirates

I first heard about the dreaded black spot while reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s a coming of age story about swashbuckling adventures, treasure maps, one-legged seamen with parrots, and the dreaded “Black Spot.”

Hey! That almost sounds like social media when I read Eric Eggerston’s beautifully summed take away of Paull Young’s post, entitled “Young PR’s - Know Your Place.

“Don’t needlessly or carelessly piss all over someone who may be in a position to help or harm your career. Public relations, marketing … the people involved all know each other, talk to each other and compare notes about up-and-comers. They also throw business the way of people they think they can trust. Flame them at your peril,” says Eggerston, who writes one of my favorite blogs.

Arg! If you mess up, we’ll give you the Black Spot and, much like Billy Bones from Treasure Island, you will suffer a social media stroke and your blog will die.

To be certain, there is ample wisdom to be taken away from these posts despite my play on the idea that sometimes social media practitioners sound more like threatening pirates. It is true that if you launch a personal blog, you are making yourself semi-public, if not public. As such, you subject yourself to consequences. Random flames may carry with them some unintended penalties. And sometimes, even the most minor disagreements become the bane of the social media world — blogdramas.

So who knows, perhaps there is some logic in saying that, as Mitch Joel says, the soap opera aspect of social media “is hurting our industry and our ability to convince clients that these channels are excellent for their Marketing and Communications' needs (which it is).”

But at the same time, I don’t blame young professionals like Chris Clarke for mimicking the social media world created before he got here. On more than one occasion, I’ve read seasoned bloggers say “be bold or go home.” Be bold, they mean, but be bold against those who haven’t earned the eye patch. You know, I’m not defending the post, but Clarke was hardly the only one to target Joseph Jaffe.

Of the two posts, which is harsher? And of the two, which seems to have caused more outrage? To me, it seems that maybe Clarke is being singled out because he hasn’t earned his eye patch. Although I can’t call myself a fan, Amanda Chapel seems to have been given at least that much. And, as I have said before, Chapel and others exist because the public relations world seems to need them. It certainly embraces them. So who is to blame a younger professional for capitalizing on similar traffic spike generating content?

Before we get carried away, let me point out that this post isn’t about Jaffe or Chapel or Clarke. Everybody else can write about that.

What this post is about is an idea. And the idea is this: whereas name calling and blatant flame posts don’t lend anything to a discussion (though it happens to drive traffic and garner attention from what I’ve seen), neither does positioning social media into high school-like niches where the price of admission is blind acceptance of equally bold statements being put forth by “experts,” as defined by crazy measures like page rank.

As much as we don’t need a new generation of flamers, neither do we need a pirate-like society where select groups might dole out “Black Spots” to those they don’t like. The way I see it, social handshakes and eye patches might work in the short term, but most will unravel long term. The more exclusionary they become, the more likely they will be swallowed up by some greater group that develops around them.

So let’s not be so serious as to pretend social media is a new world when what it really is for businesses is a powerful communication tool (more about that on Wednesday). While my partner likens it to looking at the world through a magnifying glass — with egos sometimes growing to gigantic propositions — the same rules that apply to social media are the same ones that are always applied to communication: the bolder the statement, the more likely you are to receive attention.

The only difference is that it used to be journalists were the ones to knock down the bolder goofball ideas. Today, it can be anyone with a keyboard. So just like a public relations professional would not blacklist The New York Times, Clarke doesn’t need to be blacklisted either. He only needs to be proven wrong. So, Jaffe, prove him wrong. What can be easier than that?

Ho hum. Looking beyond the confines of this social media boat that seems to sail nowadays, I might point out that today’s collective practitioners face bigger challenges than young bloggers. And if we are being honest, I suspect some “experts” today will be distant memories in two years, eye patches and all.

“Har, har, look there captain! On the horizon... It’s an armada of advertising professionals to the east and a fleet of corporate communication professionals to the west. Darn, it looks as if their boats are bigger too.“


Wednesday, August 29

Mining For Communication: Crandall Canyon Mine

It has been weeks. Six men remain missing, likely dead. Three rescue workers have lost their lives. Several have been seriously injured. Many more have suffered.

Yet, the media continues to report in microscopic detail. Everyone from the man on the street to Utah Gov. Jon M. Huntsman has offered opinion. And mine owner Robert Murray continues to miscommunicate at every turn, including his insistence that a seismic shock was responsible for the collapse despite evidence that suggests otherwise. The mine is unsafe.

"Not all seismic activity is what it looks like," said Jim Pechmann, who has been a seismologist for more than 20 years. "The reported activity was undoubtedly related to the mine collapse."

A few weeks ago, someone had asked that perhaps the Crandall Canyon Mine would make for a case study so public relations students might learn how to better plan for and handle crisis communication; perhaps after our hearts have healed.

With as many communication mistakes as have been made during this tragedy, I’m unconvinced our hearts will ever heal. So, my comment today is with the hope that those involved might handle the conclusion better than they have the last few weeks.

First and foremost, while some principles remain true, crisis communication and disaster response or emergency communication are not the same. Had Murray been advised of this, perhaps some of the communication would have played out differently. You see, in the midst of a disaster, there is no room for speculation, presumption, guesswork, media conference teases, and emotional rally cries that more cause pain and suffering beyond the tragedy.

Without question, an entire book could be written on the many missteps of the Crandall Canyon Mine communication. For us, the best that can offered up are a few tenets in a series of well-spaced apart posts, starting with a few basic principles that were missed during this disaster (and why some communicators will still get it wrong next time).

Situation Analysis. While some public relations practitioners suggest rapid-fire response and up-to-the-minute detail, nothing outweighs accuracy. All too often throughout this crisis, the pressure to educate not only overshadowed proper fact-gathering, but also infused itself into the decision-making process that quite possibly led to increasing the risk to rescue workers. There seems to have been little regard for assessment, which has frequently led to the release of erroneous information and overreaching conclusions.

Identify Crisis Team. Many public relations practitioners conclude that a principal such as Murray should be made spokesman. This is not true. With exception to the biggest news breaks in the story, Murray was not a suitable spokesperson and would have been better served focusing all of his attention on the rescue efforts. A different spokesperson could have kept reporters up to date and stories focused on facts with occasional input from reputable specialists as needed.

Prioritize Publics. In this case, the first people to receive any updates should have always been the families of those affected. Affected families should never have to learn new or conflicting information from the news. The second priority are other team members: rescue workers, and response partners (including medical personnel), ensuring that if they do answer media inquiries, miscommunication is minimized. The third priority is government officials; people to whom the media are likely to turn for additional comment. And then, and only then, can the media receive updates that are centered on major news items and not miniscule detail.

Narrow The Message. In today’s world, communication happens at the speed of light. All publics receive it quickly and react very differently. While all information will eventually be released (it pays to be truthful), a spokesperson must keep the issues manageable and the focus narrow. Wild claims without evidence are fraught with peril: it is always best to remain hopeful for the best outcome, but prepare people for the worst.

Accept Responsibility. Murray’s inconsistent and often emotionally charged communication over the last three weeks has demonstrated one simple truth: all mishandled communication happens from the inside out. Even if Murray was right, that an earthquake caused the collapse, there was never time to angrily defend his company's safety record and its efforts to reach the trapped miners. Doing so only demonstrated a lack of empathy to the families, eroded reputation, and worse, positioned Murray as someone who cared more about his company than the men who lost their lives.

Although most people can understand the pressure Murray must feel, someone needs to tell him that it doesn’t matter who or what is to blame. Sometimes, no matter what the cause, you have to accept responsibility (if not accountability) all the same.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the families. If you would like to lend assistance, read today’s story in The Salt Lake Tribune that includes a variety of funds that have been established. If there is anything good to be found in this story, it is in the generosity and sympathy extended by people from across the country. Well done.


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