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

Thursday, August 23

Bridging The Gap: Where Social Media Can Miss

Only one question keeps coming to mind when I read about the anti-critic sentiment expressed by the MyRagan team, the lack of communication and customer service that underpins Facebook, and (in contrast) the sending of flowers and the power of forgiveness. Is there any room for ‘high touch’ customer service in the rapid-fire world of the Internet or social media?

A few years ago, when I asked Curtis Nelson, president and CEO of Carlson Hospitality Worldwide, he certainly hoped so. He saw technology as a way to enhance guest expectations and the high touch service provided by hospitality employees.

“Information is an advantage, but informed decisions will depend on how much you know about your customers and how strong of a ‘high touch’ relationship they can establish,” Nelson said. “People make decisions (including purchases) based on emotion,” which is why customer service plays an increasing important role in terms of value and the profit of repeat customers.

In the hospitality industry, he wasn’t the only one who thought so. Virtually every executive I spoke to had the same message and similar warnings despite the fact that the hospitality industry was investing as much as 3.4 percent of its total annual revenue in technology at the time.

“Always remember, no amount of technology can provide guests an informed opinion,” offered Nicholas Mutton, then senior vice president of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

Consistently, they all pointed to simultaneously increasing guest services and technology because they viewed such investments as a critical part of their and strategy of the operation. Now, a mere five years later, is it any wonder why hospitality continues to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.

Not only did hospitality have an ideal environment—one where more governments assist their tourism industries by consolidating efforts and collecting vertical and geographic buying patterns, trip motivations, and psychographic profiles (information made increasingly available because of technology)—but the best of them always remembered what so few seem to remember in the world of social media.

“Some things must remain very, very human,” said James Brown, then president of Rosewood Hotel & Resorts. “The last thing I would ever want to see at a concierge desk (for example) is a guest asking for a good Italian restaurant and someone looking it up on a computer. A concierge should know it — serving as the buffer between the technology.”

Given the advent of technology with social networks and various social media platforms, I can only imagine that those who remain vigilant in bridging the gap between high tech and high touch will be those left standing two or three years from now. In other words, once the excitement of something new erodes, the rush of new members begins to flatten, and the initial purchase based on emotion gives way to logical review, all that remains is the collective impressions created by the individual, firm, or company.

In the lead above, only one seemed to get it. For the other two, they might remember that as big as some companies or social networks might get, none is exempt from losing ground as fast as they gained it.


Sunday, July 15

Questioning Perception: Geoff Livingston

Geoff Livingston, who pens The Buzz Bin, says the concept of "burying bad news and negative posts with a flurry of good news keeps coming up" again and again. He says it does on New Media Nouveaux and again online via an internal friend’s post at Pownce, which is a presence applicaton that allows you to send messages, links, files, and events to a defined network of friends.

Sure, I've seen this "bury bad news" tactic bantered about plenty: those who promote it (with qualified justifications) and those who do not (see rule 17). Some have even been suggesting that the Online Identity Calculator I employed on Thursday demonstrates why burying bad news and negative posts might work. It does not.

The argument for it is not new. It predates social media and is grounded in the argument that perception is reality. And there really is only one answer to whether that is true, um, sort of: yes and no.

In the world of communication (advertising, marketing, public relations, political consultation, etc.), people, products, and companies live and die by perception every day and all the time. But, to actively live with the mistaken belief that perception is reality is fraught with peril, delusion, and consequence.

For the past 25 years, I've nurtured what once was a .49 cent store-bought spider plant that has followed me from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Reno and back again. As you might imagine, after two-and-a-half decades, the plant has grown quite large — around 7 feet in diameter.

Anyone who visits my home is compelled to comment on the spider plant, usually something like "that is the largest spider plant I have ever seen" or "my goodness, your wife must really have a green thumb" (my wife always corrects them) or "you do a beautiful job at taking care of your plants, they are all so healthy."

Although several of these statement grace truths, all of them are really perceptions. Sure, I smile, nod, thank them, but never am I silly enough to believe that their perceptions, as welcome as they are, are grounded in reality. The truth is that my spider plant was in desperate need of a transplant; a pretty big job given the amount of soil and pot size. So despite its rich green color and vibrant leaves, I had been ignoring my plant much like some people ignore their personal brands.

The worst of it occurred while I was on holiday. One missed watering and record aridness (we are now the most arid city in the nation), prompted me to dig a little deeper past all the lush, beautiful green outer leaves to find, um, a crisis. While perception seemed to dictate everything was okay (except some minor bruises), the plant had three major problems: it had created a root layer that was preventing water from reaching the lower layers of the soil; the lower layers of the soil were bone dry as a result; and the plant had literally uprooted itself, with a good 3 inches exposed.

Fortunately, I am good with plants so I managed to save it. Of course, now it only measures 5 feet in diameter and will take a couple of days, if not weeks, to fully recover. I even potted all the babies to produce what will be another beautiful plant. So what does my plant have to do with personal brand?

You can bury bad news and negative posts all you want to create the illusion of a huge and beautiful online image, but sooner or later something will need to be done beyond burying damaged roots with big leafy stories.

Now I cannot go as far as Livingston does and say that all "bad news or negative posts" need to be addressed very publicly (every situation is dependent on too many factors to apply a formula), but I do agree that burying anything is an erroneous idea. As I mentioned when I shared the first sliver of my Fragile Brand Theory, brand damage is generally proportiate to the discrepancy between perception and reality.

Friday, July 13

Telling Whole Truths: John Mackey

According to the Core Values of Whole Foods Market, there is only one way to satisfy the needs of stakeholders. And that is to satisfy customers first.

Oh, make that two ways. According to The Associated Press (AP), John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc. (Whole Foods), found that posting under the anonymous name “rahodeb” was a pretty good way to satisfy the needs of stakeholders as well.

According to the story, Whole Foods announced it would buy Wild Oats for about $565 million, or $18.50 per share. But unfortunately, this comes after “rahodeb” posted the stock was overpriced; predicted the company would fall into bankruptcy; claimed it would be sold after its stock fell below $5 per share; declared Wild Oats' management "clearly doesn't know what it is doing;" and that the company "has no value and no future."

Obviously, “rahodeb” must have miswrote because Wild Oats does have value: $18.50 a share, which is sharply steeper the $5 per share that “rahodeb,” er, Mackey, um, "rahodeb" had hoped for as the masked Wild Oats stock vandal.

In fact, Wild Oats is so valued by Mackey, he has taken to misappropriating his company's public relations and social media communication to flame the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Apparently, he is not happy they made his anonymous comments public in an attempt to block the merger nor does he accept that the FTC is trying to prevent the elimination of another competitor.

"As previously announced, we set an intention as a company to be as transparent as possible throughout this legal process, and this blog entry is my first detailed effort at transparency," said Mackey in a news release that neglects to reveal how posting anonymous comments on Internet financial forums for seven years might be transparent.

“I provide explanations of how I think the FTC, to date, has neglected to do its homework appropriately, especially given the statements made regarding prices, quality, and service levels in its complaint. I also provide a glimpse into the bullying tactics used against Whole Foods Market by this taxpayer-funded agency,” Mackey continues on his blog. “As stated in our initial press release about Whole Foods Market's challenge to the FTC's complaint, we set an intention as a company to be as transparent as possible throughout this process. This is my first detailed effort at transparency.”

Hmmm ... I suspect if there is any "whole truth" that could potentially win a fruit basket then “this is my first effort at transparency” must be it. Unfortunately, had Mackey done his homework, the best time to be transparent is before one damages personal credibility. So, what this all means is the happiness factor of Whole Foods (where I shop sometimes) is about to be spoiled.

How do I know? Well, some of the writing is already on the blog. Mackey, just days before this seven-year ethical breach came to light, published the graphic above for one of his more colorful, but long-winded posts, Conscious Capitalism: Creating a New Paradigm for Business. He says the image represents “a common view of the good, altruistic non-profit organizations versus the evil, selfish, greedy corporations.”

Overall, I don’t subscribe that the notion that this is really the "common view." It seems more likely to me that each company is charged with its own reputation management. And, with this responsibility, each is free to nurture positive public opinion in any it feels fit, starting with the behavior of its CEO.

But then again, if the "common view" is that corporations are “evil, selfish, and greedy,” it seems to me that any CEO who would attempt to drive down the stock prices of a competitor, under the veil of anonymity, certainly isn't helping this perception go away.

In sum, Mackey wants us to accept that there are truths, half-truths, and now “whole truths.” And while that might sound all fun and amusing (enough to start a living case study), the SEC isn’t laughing.


Monday, June 11

Slaying Media Statements: Paris Hilton

One of the least understood and possibly most abused tools in the public relations arsenal is the media statement.

Once upon a time, it was simply meant to grab the attention of reporters and give them a lead on a story. Today, however, it seems like more and more celebrities, elected officials, and corporate executives are attempting to use them as masked position pieces with little interest in reporter follow up.

In fact, most statements made today try to end stories, not begin them. It almost never works. Sure, there are plenty of examples out there, but Paris Hilton's recent weekend statement, published by the TMZ, really drives the point home. (Hat tip to Spin Thicket for the link.)

"Today I told my attorneys not to appeal the judge's decision. While I greatly appreciate the Sheriff's concern for my health and welfare, after meeting with doctors I intend to serve my time as ordered by the judge."

Stop. The first graph of her statement works. It might have worked better with a little polish and perhaps a better reveal of what her doctors concluded, but this would have been short, sharp, and to the point. Unfortunately however, it doesn't stop ...

"This is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. During the past several days, I have had a lot of time to reflect and have already learned a bitter, but important lesson from this experience."

Um, stop. The second graph begins to tread murky water as an attempt to employ the traditional practice of showing empathy, sympathy, or embarrassment. You know: I'm sorry, I learned my lesson, it won't happen again. Except, in this case, it's blatant overkill. Paris Hilton had a probation violation. And unfortunately, it doesn't stop ...

"As I have said before, I hope others will learn from my mistake. I have also had time to read the mail from my fans. I very much appreciate all of their good wishes and hope they will keep their letters coming."

Um, please, really, stop. While I believe Hilton might mean some of it, it's beginning to read as a publicity ploy. It lets people know that although the media has been covering some overzealous public outcry, she still has fans. This is a mistake that is easily seen in the next graph, because, unfortunately, it just doesn't stop ...

"I must also say that I was shocked to see all of the attention devoted to the amount of time I would spend in jail for what I had done by the media, public and city officials. I would hope going forward that the public and the media will focus on more important things, like the men and women serving our country in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places around the world."

Um, really, please, please stop. You're killing me. While she might be right about media coverage in general, some sentiments just doesn't ring true. Like many who act as fair weather friends to the media (please cover me when I win, but never when I lose), Paris is attempting to shift the story at best and shame the media and others at worst. It's doesn't work, especially on the heels of calling for good wishes and more letters.

All in all, this statement becomes a classic example of having just enough rope to hang oneself, which is typical of most statements issued today. You see, the best statements are simple. They avoid infusing too many facts that are unrelated to the story. In this one from Paris, it carries no less than fifteen (maybe more) points, ranging from sincere to uninspired to just plain silly.

When you issue a statement like that, the best you can hope for is that a reporter will focus on one point. The worst thing that can happen is they publish it in entirety, which is exactly what happened here. Yeah, publicity. It's seldom around when you need it to be and always around when you don't.


Friday, June 8

Bailing Paris: Sheriff Lee Baca

Sometimes when you win, you really lose. At least that seems to be the theme for Paris Hilton, who was released from jail yesterday for a mysterious mental medical condition. She was released after serving three days of a 23-day sentence.

With more public outcry than most mass murderers, media and concerned citizens made her the poster child for "buying freedom." Suddenly, without warning, the publicity beast she has gracefully embraced for more than a decade turned to bite her back.

The decision to free Hilton prompted attorney L.A. city attorney Rocky Delgadillo to file a petition questioning whether Sheriff Lee Baca should be held in contempt of court for releasing Hilton, led to media coverage that largely mocked the Hilton heiress, and convinced Rev. Al Sharpton to organize a march protest. Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer then ordered Hilton to report to court today at 9 a.m.

"There are any number of cases of people who handled being incarcerated badly and even have health conditions that are not released," Sharpton told The Associated Press. "But I think that it gives a very bad signal when Ms. Hilton is treated any differently than any other parole violator in their county or in this country."

While I have a hard time believing this a blatant case of racism (maybe), I do lean toward the John Gibson take: "Was it because she's white? Maybe just a bit, but more likely it happened because she's rich and her parents can make lawyers and shrinks work round the clock to move mountains."

For my part, I'm less interested in what is really non-news and more interested in the publicity beast that once appeared to be tamed by Hilton. As hard as it might be for some people to see it, she may have been happy to be released, but she did not do the bailing. Sheriff Baca did that. (As if the Los Angeles County Police Department didn't have enough public relations problems.)

No matter, it seems. Most people want to have the privileged head of Hilton, regardless of her role in the release. She may have had a hand in it or not. If she did, she did herself a great disservice.

Hilton's sometimes odd popularity was always fueled by her ability to woo a majority of the public (not the media, the public), which is why people petitioned for her not to go to jail in the first place.

The result of her release, however, unless publicist Elliot Mintz can master some major spin (he often does), could erode her credibility to the point where her brand of being strangely famous forever turns into unpleasantly infamous. It will be interesting to see who remains a friend after the popularity polls begin to dip over trying to bilk the system (whether she had a direct hand in it or not).

Ah publicity ... sure you can use it to be released from jail early, but this get out of jail card is not like Monoply. It's almost never given for free.


Tuesday, May 8

Laying Blame: Paris Hilton

When in doubt, fire the publicist (and then rehire them later). At least, that is what Paris Hilton might have us believe.

It was also the original thrust of her message when spoke publicly for the first time after being sentenced to 45 days in jail. At the hearing, Hilton said publicist Elliot Mintz told her she was permitted to drive for work-related reasons after the first 30 days of her license suspension. She also said she was unaware her driving privileges had been completely suspended.

"I told the truth," the heiress told photographers waiting outside her Los Angeles home on Saturday night. "I feel that I was treated unfairly and that the sentence is both cruel and unwarranted. I don't deserve this."

Hilton’s lawyer, Howard Weitzman, has planned an appeal in order "to modify the sentence." Weitzman said his client has been singled out and the punishment doesn't fit the crime. He's also the guy that Hilton should have turned to for legal advice regarding her driving privileges.

Although Mintz corroborated Hilton's story, offering "my sincerest apology for any misunderstanding she received from me regarding the terms of her probation," one wonders what degree of responsibility Hilton will accept. Perhaps it also draws the distinction between handlers and trusted advisors in the field of public relations.

Handlers are people who call the shots, sometimes trumping the judgment of their clients. Trusted advisors are more interested in helping clients work through decisions as they relate to public perception. The difference is subtle, but important.

Had Mintz acted as the trusted advisor, he might have suggested Hilton ask Weitzman about the terms of her probation, while suggesting that any infractions while driving could damage her credibility. Driving without lights certainly qualifies. But then again, that assumes the original story wasn't a spin.

Yesterday, Mintz told Us Weekly that, despite confirming the split himself in a statement over the weekend, “the rumors of our professional separation were over-exaggerated." Um, yeah, by Mintz.

What did Seth Godin say recently about going too far? In sum, if the second story doesn't hold up, the first story might be scrutinized even more. Very right.


Friday, April 20

Giving For ROI: Wall Street Journal

As part of National Volunteer Week, I wanted to remind everyone that The Wall Street Journal picked up on a study from the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) back in January. It deserves more attention. The study revealed corporate giving can increase company profits at a rate of return of 200 to 300 percent.

The study, examined 251 corporate donors and their giving contributions from 1989 to 2000. Led by Prof. Baruch Lev at New York University’s Stern School of Business, the researchers found that corporate giving is associated with subsequent sales growth, particularly when consumer perception is important.

(Side note: This information has been around for some time. As far back as 1999, one report, from Cone/Roper Cause Trends Report, noted that 76 percent of consumers said they would switch brands/retailers to one associated with a good cause if price and quality are equal.)

Keep in mind, most of the firms in the SSRN study spent 50 times more on marketing than philanthropy, and their average giving was only 0.1 percent of average sales revenue. Still, the rate of return on giving exceeds the investment and, depending on what a company considers measurable results, business giving and volunteer programs deliver substantial benefits inside as well as outside a company, especially for small businesses with limited resources.

Business Giving Benefits
• Improves customer loyalty; impacts profitability
• Increases employee morale, loyalty, and productivity
• Establishes new internal and external relationships
• Improves internal communication and teamwork
• Enhances employee recruitment and retention
• Encourages new approaches to strategic business objectives
• Positions a company as a leader in the community
• Increases brand recognition and community awareness

Employee Volunteer Benefits
• Strengthens employee leadership and decision-making skills
• Encourages teamwork to develop positive communication
• Enables unrelated departments to interact and network
• Reduces work-related stress and increases morale
• Creates a better quality of life where employees live and work
• Increases employee awareness and interest in community issues
• Generates increased sense of patriotism, citizenship and civic pride
• Develops a community-minded culture, improving customer service

You see, most programs don't have to be large, cumbersome, costly, or time-consuming to develop win-win-win solutions. The best starts can be as simple as thinking about what your company can do.

For example, just today, we reported on TXU Electric Delivery's partnership with the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. The company relies on the center to rescue and remove birds, including blue herons, that have nested in electrical equipment.

To support the center, TXU Electric Delivery is raising funds by recycling printer ink cartridges and used cell phones; some employees have also volunteered to work on a number of special projects at the center this summer. It's simple, effective, and everyone wins: the company, the employees, the center, and the community.

While I'm not sure if TXU Electric Delivery has a formal giving program, I do see they've taken the first steps. Mostly, however, I just like their case study because it demonstrates how relatively easy it is for a company to develop some type of program, formal or informal.

Here are a few other tips we've picked up along the way from working with nonprofit organizations and dozens of companies:

Create A Statement: Some people might call it a mission for a strategic philanthropy program, but I suggest smaller companies or independent professionals keep it simple. The real goal is to define when and how your company can best give back.

Choose A Niche: Focus on a specific need or a few needs within your community, which will give your company a better chance to measure results within the community. You can choose something that is important to your employees or closely aligned with what your company provides.

Develop A Road Map: Many companies will call it a strategy, but what we're really talking about is a road map to help you get where you want to go. For example, one company we know has an advocacy campaign aimed at increasing its role as a specialty provider in elementary school curriculum.

You can learn more about business philanthropy on this blog. In 2005, I republished a three-year-old article I wrote on the topic for the publication we were managing at the time. Don't let the date fool you; or that the entire article is tucked in the comments section. (I posted it back when I was led to believe all blog posts had to be short ... darn those useless rules other people promote!)

The article, Business Philanthropy | The Impact of Giving, included interviews with Microsoft,, and the Business Community Investment Council.

I'll be happy to post more on business giving and community relations in the future, assuming there is an interest in the subject. Right now, we simply post best case studies on our other blog.

Next week, I'll be back to offering up some biting commentary on some communication disasters we missed this week, including a few sad thoughts on a few groups hoping to capitalize on the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Publicity, ho hum, indeed.


Monday, April 9

Pushing Apologies: JetBlue Airways

On March 23, JetBlue Airways accepted delivery of its 100th Airbus A320 aircraft, complete with a one-of-a-kind 100-themed blue livery, giving the airline the world's largest fleet of A320 aircraft.

But what could have been a press conference about the growth and success of a low-cost, low-fare, value-oriented business model turns into more of the same: why talk about leg room when you can talk about being sorry?

It wasn't just at the JetBlue JFK hangar, decked out with balloons for about 200 JetBlue crew members. And it wasn't only in the March 20 follow-up YouTube video. It's anywhere and everywhere David Neeleman, founder and CEO of JetBlue Airways, happens to be or has anything to say.

It's in the Sun-Sentinel. It's in the Chicago Tribune. It's in the Baltimore Sun. JetBlue is sorry. Neeleman is sorry. All the employees are sorry.

And, when you get right down to it, this has gone on so long — apologizing for winter storms on Valentine's Day that left passengers stranded on airplanes — I'm even sorry, despite having never tried a flight on JetBlue. I'm sorry they didn't read my posts on Feb. 23 and Feb. 22 that both pointed to the same problem JetBlue would face if it did not stop saying "sorry."

It is estimated JetBlue has spent as much as $30 million in overtime, added crew costs, and free flights. Meanwhile, shares of JetBlue are down 18 percent this year. Its customer-first image, despite launching a "Passenger Bill of Rights" immediately following the debacle, remains in the toilet as exemplified by its name being crossed out on the cover of BusinessWeek in a story on companies with the best customer service. And why is this?

Well, when your most powerful and memorable message is entrenched in what some might call your worst mistake for too long, nearly two months and counting, it will become your only message. And in this case, it worked. Nevermind all the good stuff about JetBlue. The only thing that people think about now is that it had problems. And ironically, probably half of the people who know there were problems don't even remember what the cause of those problems were.

All they know, thanks to improper, overbearing, and too much negative messaging, is that JetBlue did something very, very bad and JetBlue is very, very sorry. So sorry in fact, that its endless apologies overwhelm all other messages.

For everything it did right as outlined by Richard Levick, president of Levick Strategic Communications, JetBlue is doing a lot of things wrong. Sure, it could lobby for new industry standards and get out in front of other airlines with sensitivity training designed to make employees think and feel like passengers as Levick suggests (smart stuff), but first and foremost, it needs to shift from negative messaging — over-apologizing — and get back to what makes it, as an airline, different from anyone else.

JetBlue needs to turn off the sob stories related to what Levick calls the "Valentine's Day massacre of passenger rights" and move off the tarmac and up into the clouds.

Unfortunately, it has been apologizing for so long, the transition will take that much longer. You see, from a more simplistic view of the world, it works something like this: negative messages are 8 times more powerful than positive messages. So if it takes 80 impressions to make a positive message stick, we might conclude it takes 640 impressions to erase a negative message. Neeleman and JetBlue have so masterfully elevated the awareness of one problem that the number of positive messages they need to get beyond Valentine's Day might not fit on a calculator. But, even before they can do that, they have to stop apologizing before it's too late.

You see, in addition to their own "problem-centered" messaging are scores of customers since Feb. 14 who blog about every little bad thing as evidence that no sweeping changes are being made. Usually, it doesn't matter whether one piece of luggage is lost for awhile or that a single flight has a delay (those things happen), but now these things mean everything to JetBlue.

The perception is that it had customer service problems, made promises to fix those problems, and cannot deliver on those promises, probably because those promises (in perception, not reality) were too big for anyone to deliver on in the first place. And the only reason this perception exists is because JetBlue made it so.

Look, I'm all for crisis communication as I've outlined and Levick has outlined, but there is also some common sense and practicality that is missing in this case study. It's something I learned as an intern (later, a communication consultant) at Sierra Pacific Resources.

As an intern, my first task was to write a letter of introduction to the communications department. I was so excited that I fired it off and placed it neatly on everyone's desk (no IMs in those days, hey). The next day, I was called into my mentor's office so he could point out two typos. Needless to say, I was mortified and immediately suggested I apologize with a second letter.

"Here's the thing," he said. "Ninety five percent of the department didn't see any errors because they read right past them, but they will all see them if you apologize. So the best thing you can do for the 5 percent, who think I may have made a mistake in picking you as an intern, is to causally address your mistake to them if they bring it up. More importantly, you need to make your first assignment for the company really shine."

Sound advice. No one ever mentioned those typos. And typos were not something they ever saw again, which is partly why I easily transitioned from intern to communication consultant.

Now, I am not suggesting that JetBlue did anything wrong by apologizing in the first place. That was smart. It was crisis communication on social media steroids and it worked.

What I am suggesting is that there is no possible way that JetBlue will ever overcome this crisis if they keep talking about it. As I have said before ... most people take long looks at car accidents (I'm not one of them), but a car accident can only hold their interest for so long.

However, if you force them to look at your car accident, in painstaking detail, long after they are interested in something else, then they'll become disenfranchised and tune out all your other messages. Or worse, they'll become disgusted or even angry at you and your company.


Friday, April 6

Counting Casualties: DraftFCB

Of all the casualties related to the Julie Roehm vs. Wal-Mart legal battle, the quietest past participant seems to be nursing the largest wounds. According to Noreen O'Leary's Apr. 2 story in ADWEEK, DraftFCB is still in the shadow of scandal.

Although there is no public evidence that the agency's recent account woes are linked to Wal-Mart, O'Leary writes that some claim reviews of the $1.5 million John Deere and $3.5 Applebee's account may both be linked to the scandal. (DraftFCB will not participate in these reviews). Along with these accounts, Qwest Communications, a $95 million client that generates about $15 million in revenue, confirmed it is launching a creative review. The story also implies that S.C. Johnson and Verizon Communications are less secure.

"Whenever there's negative press, there's going to be short-term damage. But I don't think there's any fundamental damage to Howard or his agency," said Michael Roth, chairman of Interpublic Group. "In this business, you're only as good as your last account win. This model of the future, of putting these two companies together and winning Wal-Mart, proves the validity of it. I'm still very bullish about this (the DraftFCB merger)."

Others disagree. One former FCB employee described the mood at the company's New York flagship as "grim," according to O'Leary. "Everyone knew from the beginning that Draft would take the lead, but still, it's as if 100 years of FCB heritage is being shredded by Howard Draft."

I think Roth might be right. If DraftFCB can land a major account that gives it the opportunity to demonstrate creative result-driven work (which has not been easy for the Draft side, some say), it may be able to reverse its course. However, this is a very tall order and will require a sympathetic high-profile major account.

Part of the challenge will no doubt be reflective of the ADWEEK poll that revealed 29 percent of the 2,400 respondents said Draft fared the worst in recent industry scandals, second only to Roehm, with 46 percent. Although recent publicity that revealed Wal-Mart's past electronic surveillance and other espionage missions against employees was extreme, only 10 percent said Wal-Mart fared worst.

Here's my unsolicited take for the three most visible parties might consider for turnarounds and wins in the months ahead:

DraftFCB — Since you already made amends by supplying e-mails to Wal-Mart, take a page from the JetBlue crisis communication plan (sans apologizing forever) and create an agency ethics guide. Take a breath and consider some Ragan Communications findings that suggest: more than 60 percent of mergers and acquisitions fail to deliver the benefits that are promised—often because of the poor quality of communication. You need a message beyond picking up 90 smaller accounts worldwide. The message you have, Draft ROI with FCB creative, doesn't seem to be working. Spark up some integrated social media pitches and that will frighten other agencies, after they stop laughing.

Julie Roehm — Stop calling yourself a "change agent," drop the suit, get out of the press, take an extended vacation, come back refreshed (perhaps a bit remorseful), and start your own "marketing 2.x" firm, whatever that is. Your first few clients will likely be smaller accounts, perhaps in the automotive industry, but sometimes smaller accounts can turn into giants if your ideas really work. (Bonus tip for Sean Womack: stay away! Stay far, far away!) Marriage counseling wouldn't be a bad idea either, even if you didn't do anything as you said. (By the way, I'm married. Don't e-mail me!)

Wal-Mart — Sure, you asked Roehm to pass on perks from vendors and it didn't work. It's not your fault. But the time has come to give up on the notion anybody will make you happy with traditional marketing. You do need something new, but new doesn't mean Roehm's "progressive" and "sexy" that would have never reached your target anyway. So the best advice for the fine folks working on your next campaign is simply this: to get back to basics and rekindle that grassroots shopping for common people concept you once had before all the public relations nightmares and bad communication consulting distracted you. Who knows? Maybe what I call "income marketing" would be right up your aisle.

"Income Marketing" is marketing that generates income instead of simply producing expenses so that even CFOs might like it. Sure, it sounds like something that goes against my shell game post, but one of my colleagues told me to call it something. Besides, that was part of Amitai Givertz's excellent comment at

Have a nice weekend and happy Easter!


Tuesday, March 27

Peddling Fear: Royal Spring Water

There are several ways to effectively market an IPO, but distress direct mail marketing with multiple messages from a mysterious third-party publisher is not one of them.

Of course, that did not stop Texas-based Royal Spring Water from giving it a go last week. A "special report" published under the banner of American Water Stocks, but devoid of contact information, claims two billion people will soon be in dire need of drinking water and that is why you should bank on a water stock with potential gains of 220 percent. As a communication observation, I can only guess
that Royal Spring Water is gambling on the idea that even a faceless smoke-and-mirrors endorser (but disclaimed as a paid non-endorser) can generate capital to offset operating losses.

Sure, this bottler and distributor of pure water from the Artesian wells of the "Ogallala Aquifer" has added a warehouse and distribution center in Los Angeles in order to meet sales demands in the state of California. It has reportedly concluded a private label deal with Vista Ford dealerships and Pacific Athletic Club, both in California, among others. And, its pitch that it has an exclusive "structured water" formula, sold under the label "RHYTHM Structured H2O — A life Changing Experience" sounds interesting enough.

Yet, this is precisely why one has to wonder about a company that would gamble with its reputation and possibly garner legal consequences by spending $20,000 with American Water Stocks in a mailer that comes dangerously close to crossing the stock "solicitation" line. (Right. For $20,000, you too could see your company projection to be "overperform" if you don't mind the half-page disclaimer underneath that refutes its own claim, assuming you can find the ghost of a company that did the piece.)

The reason why aside, the multiple messages mangle any sense of logic. The opening message to "forward-thinking investors" reads:

"Forget about oil shortages, flu pandemics, and terrorist attacks. The world is on the verge of a crisis that's unprecedented in human history. Because when water becomes scarce, nothing else matters.

What I'm about to tell you in this special investor report may shock you, sadden you, and even make you a bit angry. But I feel it's my duty to let you know how the world's most precious natural resource is in serious danger of depletion.

I'll also show you how the demand for clean, safe water is exploding around the world, and I'll name a company that's gearing up to supply this growing demand—and which could potentially make its early investors very wealthy as it grabs a share of the $420 billion market for freshwater."

The mysterious "I" person is never named, but goes on to fulfill his or her promise that 12 pages of fear marketing can indeed shock, sadden, and even make people feel angry. Unfortunately, not for the reasons they hope.

You see, it's no surprise to me that the executive management team of Royal Spring Water got their start as independent film producers of movies that didn't go anywhere (one was about how a transcriptor struggles to keep up with the rapidly changing technology around her. Oh my!). Today's equally compelling plot line links the end-of-the-world water to unbelievable stock gains. Simply put, it is investor prospecting communication at its very worst.

Look, there is no refuting clean drinking water is an issue worth consideration or that the bottled water industry is booming (Aquafina, Dasani, Arrowhead, and others all posted gains last year), but this hardly doubles as an excuse to misrepresent paid advertising as a special report from a third-party source. And personally, I would be disappointed to see more of it.

Lessons for today: First, never risk your company's reputation for a get-rich-quick stock scheme, especially when you seem to have a markable product. Second, never assume in today's world that your targeted mailer will only be seen by unsavvy investors willing to gamble on your hype. One of them just may be a member of the social media with an eye out for communication. Good. Bad. Or indifferent.


Monday, March 12

Talking Transparency: Fox News

On Friday, the Nevada Democratic Party backed out of a FOX News-sponsored presidential debate after Roger Ailes, president of FOX, made some remarks, jokingly comparing Democratic Senator Barack Obama to al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

As written up by the The Huffington Post the remarks prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Tom Collins, the head of the Nevada Democratic Party, to cancel the debate. The letter read:

"A month ago, the Nevada Democratic Party entered into a good faith agreement with FOX News to co-sponsor a presidential debate in August,'' Reid and Collins said in the letter. "This was done because the Nevada Democratic Party is reaching out to new voters and we strongly believe that a Democrat will not win Nevada unless we find new ways to talk to new people. To say the least, this was not a popular decision. But it is one that the Democratic Party stood by.''

"However, comments made last night by FOX News President Roger Ailes in reference to one of our presidential candidates went too far,'' the letter went on. "We cannot, as good Democrats, put our party in a position to defend such comments. In light of his comments, we have concluded that it is not possible to hold a Presidential debate that will focus on our candidates and are therefore canceling our August debate. We take no pleasure in this, but it is the only course of action.''

Politics aside, this living case study brushes up against the concept of transparency in business. Just how much is too much? For Ailes, his political leanings obviously have real life consequences, if nothing else, giving Democratic leaders the excuse they needed to cancel under pressure from the more than 265,000 people who signed a petition calling Fox "a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, not a legitimate news channel." At the same dinner where Ailes made the controversial remarks, he also offered a warning about a growing trend.

"Pressure groups are forcing candidates to conclude that the best strategy for journalists is divide and conquer, to only appear on those networks and venues that give them favorable coverage...This pressure must be resisted, as it has been in the past," Ailes said. "Any candidate for high office of either party who believes he can blacklist any news organization is making a terrible mistake."

While Ailes is right, it seems he was equally wrong by being, perhaps, too transparent in his remarks, reinforcing a growing belief that today's media, particularly broadcast media, is biased toward one party or another. Clearly, it seems over the last ten years, traditional media has shifted from reporting the news to setting an agenda to having an agenda.

In part, it is for this reason businesses are looking (or will be looking) for new ways to create more open and direct dialogue with their consumers by employing, among other vehicles, social media. The question that remains unanswered, however, is whether traditional company presidents and CEOs have the skill sets required to get the job done. In many cases, there is growing evidence that suggests they do not.

In their quest to be more transparent, presidents and CEOs tend to be either too tight or too loose with their lips. A few days ago (thanks for the tip Amitai Givertz ... your new "blog-enabled" Web site is looking up!), The Melcrum Blog highlighted an article in the Financial Times UK edition that reminds us of some recent CEO gaffes...

"I don't borrow on credit cards because it's too expensive." — Matt Barrett, CEO of Barclays.

"People say how can you sell this for such a low price. I say because it is total crap." — Gerard Ratner, CEO of Ratners

"Assets like [Sainsbury] don't come on the market very often. Your shareholders would think you were an idiot if you didn't consider it. Watch this space." — Stuart Rose from Marks & Spencer, uttered over a "glass of wine," which was followed by an 'official announcement' declaring that the board of Marks & Spencer had decided it did not intend to make an offer.

For the best CEO practitioners of transparency, the rewards of mastering this double-edged sword are pretty great. According to the International Association of Business Communicators, 72 percent of consumers say reputation influences their buying decisions, 80 percent of employees will accept less money to work with a company that has an excellent reputation, and 82 percent of consumers say reputation is the tie-breaker between equal choices.

Case in point, recently I entertained a relatively gruff recruiter who wanted to establish a "relationship" in case my career goals might change in a few years (probably not, but whatever). It didn't take long to deduce that she only wanted to fill one job (that wouldn't have been challenging for me) and rob my contacts to do it. Even more perplexing was her insistence that strategic communication had something to do with how big your media contact Rolodex is (what's a Rolodex nowadays, anyway?) I've decided against publicly chastising her ignorance out of respect to my friend who referred her, but it fits within the context of mastering transparency basics to remember:

• You are never off the record (you're being interviewed even when conducting an interview).
• You cannot buy it (creating a flog, making false promises, or shifting agendas midstream).
• You cannot fake transparency and hope to retain your reputation over time.
• How you react to a mistakes will have greater weight than the original blunder.

The bottom line is that corporate transparency is not all that different from recognizing that you are in the public all the time (even when you don't think you are). Some people are good at it. Some are not. For starters, however, you have to have a message that is aligned with your business objectives, sensitive to the audience you are communicating to, and not insensitive to other publics who are likely to hear what you said anyway.

For Ailes, whom I generally like, unless his objective was to have the debate canceled, he only considered one of these three elements. Sure, what he said might convey how he really feels, but it always helps to remember that being honest and overly opinionated are two different things.


Friday, January 26

Moving Beyond Bad News: Jobster

If Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, is wondering why HouseValues didn’t have to endure a blog swarm over layoffs while Jobster remains the poster child for inappropriate blog posts (made about a month ago), the difference can be found in their approach to crisis communication, inside and out.

Ian Morris did it 89 percent right. Goldberg did it 99 percent wrong.

As a result, from a communication perspective and not necessarily a product review, HouseValues is in a much better position to move beyond its recent bad news than Jobster. The difference is clear.

Whereas the Lukaszewski Group Inc. might call it mismanaging the victim dimension (the treatment of the victims will maintain or destroy trust) and I might call it demonstrating a lack of empathy for those who were impacted, the outcome is the same.

If you do it right, the public is satisfied and their interest wanes. If you do it right, your company might even find protection from having the issue resurface a month, a year, or ten years later.

In politics, it’s called inoculation: a clearly defined explanation of what happened, what was learned, and what was done to rectify the situation. With a good candidate, bad news can even be reframed as good news, all assuming they handled the bad news properly and actually learned something from the mistake.

Companies can move beyond bad news too, assuming the same. While this only touches on the surface, there are a few questions you can ask to guide yourself away from reliving the same bad story over and over again.

Did you acknowledge something went wrong? At Jobster, Goldberg never really apologized for his blog posts regarding the layoffs, which he still muses over today, even referencing that he blogs about what is on his iPod.

Did you apologize? At Jobster, Goldberg didn’t apologize for the posts that caused his former employees to wait on pins and needles through the holidays.

Do you offer explanation? While others have speculated on Goldberg’s behalf — that he was torn between keeping the layoffs under wraps and letting his employees know — he never really said.

What did you learn? It’s difficult to say whether Goldberg learned anything based upon his questions about blogging after the situation unfolded. Contrary, it seems he missed that the situation had little to do with CEO blogging and much to do about hinting at but denying layoff rumors.

Have you satisfied the public interest? If you want to move beyond bad news, you have to commit to regularly reporting additional information until no public interest remains. This includes all positive steps being taken to address the situation and any remedy for the victims. To his credit, Goldberg has done some of this by profiling former Jobster employees.

Did you verbalize empathy, sympathy or even embarrassment? There seems to be no time for that at Jobster, given that Goldberg and some crew have been too busy playing with the office’s new camcorder.

Did you seek outside consult? While Goldberg did ask people to hire his former employees, he remains dead set against turning to his public relations professionals for counsel, likening it to being “handled.”

Did you offer restitution? There seems to be little evidence that Goldberg has gone beyond community and victim expectations in order to remediate the problems.

Of the eight, Goldberg seems to have done one and a half, which was further overshadowed by bouts of arrogance, unpreparedness, and ignorance.

For example, as if he read a line right out of what not to do, Goldberg at one point asked (paraphrased, as this is actually a line from a Lukaszewski example): "Why are the bloggers interested in this anyway? It's nobody's business, but ours. They'll just get the story all mixed up; they simply can't get it right. We certainly can't let our employees talk about this!" One of Goldberg's actual posts is here.

In complete contrast, Morris at HouseValues sent a memo that details to employees (first) everything that will be done, why it will be done, and what measures are being taken to ensure the solvency of the company going forward. There is a certain amount of empathy and regret.

While it seems to me that the release that followed placed too much emphasis on the addition and promise of Barry Allen as chief financial officer and executive vice president of operations, among others, in order to bury the bad news of cutting its workforce by about 12 percent, its overall communication as summed by John Cook of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer — the internal memo, quotes to journalists, etc. — are just enough on par to avoid the ire of the public.

Case in point: "Today is a truly difficult day. And the departure of friends and colleagues is very painful for all of us," Morris said in the memo. "But the decisions we have made -- to focus 100 percent of our energies on the success of our real estate agent customers -- are the right ones and they will enable us to profitably grow HouseValues in the future."

All this seems to indicate, in my opinion, that HouseValues is in a better communication position to avoid reoccurring stories about layoffs. Jobster, on the other hand, continues to demonstrate a communication strategy that will be written about over and over again as how "not to do it." It will very likely be immortalized and will certainly resurface every time Jobster has even marginal news (let alone bad news) again.

Worse, despite hoping they could get over it, it is quite possibly too late for Jobster to regain any semblance of being credible with its communication. While the company may succeed, it will always have this dark piece of history lurking over its head.

Thursday, January 4

Working In A Bubble

There has been ample discussion about transparency, as it relates to blogs in particular, but it seems to me corporate transparency is optional, and best left to the discretion of each individual company. You see, I don't subscribe to the notion CEOs shouldn't blog. I think it depends on the CEO and, more importantly, the company's business strategy.

It seems to me the only problem with corporate transparency is the number of CEOs that try it without really understanding what it means. Worse, few consider that working in a bubble might be a different environment all together, becoming a public figure aside.

Maybe the answer to the question, whether to blog or not, lies within a seemingly unrelated question. How prepared are we to manage our reputation once we gain transparent visibility?

It's tricky stuff, doubly so if you have any hope to keep your message consistent. Here are 8 basic questions (I collected them from several experts and executives over the years) to ask about your corporate reputation management, adjusted a bit to skew toward CEO blogs.

1. Can you keep your focus narrow and potential issues manageable?
2. Are you willing to take responsibility (not necessarily accountability) for all employee actions and outcomes, even those outside of your control?
3. Will you maintain a positive, assertive, calm communication style that focuses attention on the most important aspects of any problem?
4. Are you willing to move toward resolution despite any negativity, including antagonistic reporters and crazy bloggers?
5. Are you ready to concede that if your local disaster becomes regional or national, that it is totally your doing?
6. Do you realize that your actions and posts will influence those around you and have an impact on your reputation and the company?
7. Are you prepared to answer tough, probing, and sometimes trick questions from not only the media but also anyone who happens by?
8. Are you willing to share your ideas internally or with consultants prior to posting in order to ensure everyone is on the same page?

If you answer no to any of these questions, then you should probably stay out of the business of blogging. Of course, if you answer no to any of these questions, your company is operating without any concern for reputation management anyway, and sooner or later you'll learn the hard way (these questions apply to picking a company spokesperson too).

Having worked with CEOs and, even more maverick, politicians, I can safely say that the decision to be transparent or blog is an individual question. As many as I have advised to blog, there are dozens more I have advised not to blog. For each, I base my advice on whether it makes strategic sense for the company and if the CEO (or anyone for that matter) is fit to be a blogger.

Or perhaps I shouldn't say "blogger" given the industry push to change the term. What is a blog? Seems to be a lot things to a lot of people, and I don't think narrowing the definition will change that.

Of course, if we are all going to make our companies "bubbles," I propose a new occupational title: "window washer." Just kidding.

Wednesday, January 3

Managing The Message

“I still feel like a passenger on that JetBlue flight that's watching helpless on my seatback satellite TV as the plane I'm on makes a crash landing,” said one Jobster employee about the recent interest in Jobster, fueled largely by one of the most horrifically handled communication accidents in recent memory. Unfortunately, unlike JetBlue, not all passengers will be landing safely.

According to Jobster, the reorganization to better align its business to focus on the most efficient sales and support channels, as well as its Website, will result in the loss of 60 positions, primarily those supporting in-person sales and support efforts. From a communication perspective, Jason Goldberg and Jobster — which maintains their first priority was to inform affected employees who were left waiting for days to learn their fate in between ill-advised blog posts — lost much more than that.

Although it reads as one of the better posts ever presented under Goldberg's byline, one that causes me to sincerely hope Jobster's smaller and more focused vision for 2007 will return the company to the start-up success story it was in 2004, I wonder if it will be enough to erase the reputation damage it endured externally and employee morale flogging it weathered internally.

You see, reputation management, which includes crisis communication as noted in my last Jobster-related post, can be equal to if not superior to a successful product. When you lose control of it, which is relatively easy to do, it's difficult for anyone to believe your next message.

If we subscribe to the ideal that it takes 80 impressions to make a message stick (and that negative impressions are eight times more impactful than positive messages), Jobster's rebranding as a company and employer that can be trusted will be a difficult, though not insurmountable, task in the year and years ahead.

The reasons are simple enough. As much as we (especially those of us in the advertising and communication field) would like to believe that we control the definition of our company or clients' companies, we really don't most of the time.

Instead, companies are defined by everything executives and employees communicate about themselves daily (whether written, spoken, or by action); everything executives and employees say about the internal working environment; everything others (from members of the media and bloggers to customers and competitors) say about the company, whether real or perceived; and everything other companies (primarily competitors) say about themselves, which causes people to wonder if the company measures up.

At the end of the day, you add up all these messages and therein lies the "real" (not self-perceived) definition of a company. While there are strategies in managing all these messages, most companies or even advertising agencies do not know where to begin. I'll work harder at sharing some insight here and there for those who care to know; most answers take longer than the single confines of a post to appreciate (and that's not to say I have all the answers), starting with eight questions to ask yourself if you are managing your reputation, which I'll share tomorrow.

To all the other social media experts and bloggers who have contributed to (and will continue to contribute to) this living case study, my gratitude. To all the folks remaining at Jobster who read my posts, I sincerely hope you did not find my criticisms and comments too harsh, but an attempt to provide objective commentary. To Jason Golberg, I hope you keep up honest blogging, perhaps though, with a bit a more sensitivity to the message you want people to read. And to all those who are being asked to leave Jobster, this too shall pass. Good night and good luck.

Monday, January 1

Managing Bad News

Happy New Year!

Last week, I offered to provide some basics in managing bad news when faced with a situation like Jobster as part of a living case study in communication. (Spoiler: If you're looking for dirt, I am sorry to disappoint. You can find plenty of nastiness on Jobster's own blog.)

Perhaps James E. Lukaszewski, APR, of The Lukaszewski Group (one of the most quoted crisis communication management consultants and prolific authors in the field), said it best during his speech to the Canadian Investor Relations Institute in 2001: In the era of instant communication, people will likely bet against you when trouble comes. "Your ability to understand and communicate with confidence in real time with constituents will be the key to winning the perception struggle that crisis always creates," he said.

He is spot on of course. With the exception of crime, malfeasance, or environmental catastrophe, most crisis communication situations are all about perception, and this seems to be the area where Jobster has struggled the most.

You see, downsizing, unfortunately, is part of business when companies are not performing as expected. There is nothing wrong with it, other than the unfortunate impact it has on people. Most people understand this and most CEOs lament the decision, which means companies are generally judged solely on management's handling of layoffs. This is also why I suspect Jason Goldberg's decision to blog about upcoming changes before clearly communicating all the details to employees (just prior to the holidays) was met with such widespread criticism.

Why? First and foremost, he didn't seem to understand he was in a crisis communication situation. Usually, crisis communication situations are identified by one of the following: a dramatic drop in stock prices, a member of management is indicted, outside activists attack the company, acquisitions/mergers/takeovers, anti-corporate government action, and the one that is hardest to identify but best applies here — founded and unfounded rumor.

It doesn't make a difference whether a rumor is founded or unfounded, both can have equal impact on a company's reputation and it is up to a CEO to manage them, with or without the advice of communication specialists (not necessarily public relations practitioners). If they do not, they run the risk of demonstrating that they are not leaders, but simply managers. The difference is that managers generally run an organization by the numbers (try to make the forecast or exceed it at all costs) whereas leaders lead through inspiration, motivation, strategic vision, and people management.

When faced with bad news or a crisis, assuming management recognizes it as such, the best leaders will always consider the following (a sliver from my playbook) once the founded or unfounded rumor surfaces:

• Talk about it as soon as possible.
• Tell the whole truth, even if it means bad news, negligence, or wrongdoing.
• Be clear and concise, addressing details without obscuring the situation.
• Offer full disclosure of all relevant facts, history, and related information.
• Demonstrate empathy or remorse as appropriate to the situation.

By all counts, it seems to me that Jobster did none of these things. They did not seem to consider that, in today's world, communication has an impact on ALL company publics very quickly (employees, shareholders, media members, customers, etc.) and each of these publics will react to information differently. They did not seem to consider most people have gut reactions before listening to the facts and background or waiting for post-holiday explanations. They did not seem to consider that all information, no matter how contained it seems, will eventually be released by someone. And they did not seem to consider that the media, people like the Seattle Times, will frequently turn to additional sources for opinions and comments when management avoids an issue, which could further erode the reputation of the company.

Suffice to say, even if Jobster finds a way to keep every employee (I hope they do, and am sorry if they don't), how the rumor and supporting evidence was managed will still have a negative impact on the company, especially on employee relations. Sure, they don't teach most of this in many MBA programs, but the most experienced leaders in today's business world learn it anyway, either the easy way from "handlers" as they are called by Goldberg, or the hard way.

Given that reputation damage most often occurs from the inside out, I sincerely hope others learn from this living case study. History does not have to repeat, even though it almost always does. Companies are fragile things. Treat them wisely.

In conclusion, I would like to mention that there has been much criticism over whether people should be discussing Jobster at all. Sorry, but I have to disagree. Jobster executives and team leaders have to appreciate that no one but no one gets to choose what others find newsworthy or interesting. On the contrary, you invited bloggers and members of the media to take an interest in the company from day one. You cannot "uninvite" them.

That, in essence, is what public relations (just one aspect of strategic communication) is all about. It's about managing communication, perception, and reputation in good times and in bad. Never should a company expect one without the other. That would be silly.

Friday, December 8

Taking The Bottom Position

Two days ago, we alluded to the idea that Julie Roehm was only the first casualty of a Wal-Mart insider marketing war. Yesterday, the fine folks at Draft FCB found out they were the next to go, just weeks after they crowed about being in the 'top position,' partly because they won the account. I guess it's back to the bottom position for them, making their ill-advised ad the ultimate case study for irony in advertising.

The not-so-surprising news yesterday was that Wal-Mart quickly overturned Roehm's Draft FCB choice, putting $580 million worth of advertising purchase power back on the table. Several major agencies are already pulling together their marketing plans for the nation’s largest retailer.

Ms. Roehm maintains that she did not accept gifts from agencies vying to become Wal-Mart advertising superstars or that her relationship with subordinate Sean Womack violated company policies. Instead, she told The New York Times: “I think part of my persona is that I am an envelope pusher,” she said last night. “The idea of change in general can be uncomfortable for many people, and my persona as an agent of change can prompt that feeling.”

This seems to be a spin contrary to her attendance at a September dinner given by Draft FCB at the Manhattan hot spot Nobu, where she allegedly explained her presence as one of those cases where “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Unfortunately for Roehm, sometimes you do get what you don't ask for, since Wal-Mart has ruled the search process was "tainted by the pair’s behavior and should be reopened."

Draft FCB's (part of the Interpublic Group of Companies) stock fell 6.4 percent on the news it had lost the account. As I often advise clients in Roehm's position and higher, behavior is easily managed. Unless you'll be proud to see the story appear in the Wall Street Journal, er, The New York Times, don't do it!

All cloak and dagger courtships aside, Draft FCB was not ready for the holiday season and neither was Roehm, based on a USA Today story that weak Wal-Mart sales are dampening holiday season hopes.

What USA Today seems to miss is that the 'dampener' might be all Wal-Mart and not all retailers. Given that the agency review was concluded dangerously close to the holidays (not bright), that choosing an ROI (Return On Ideas) agency delivered a dismal negative .01 percent in sales for Nov. (assuming they got anything off the ground), and that Wal-Mart is in desperate need of some top-down strategic communication development to prevent it from further losing its way; I'd say it is not the best national holiday sales indicator at the moment.

You see, it used to be that Wal-Mart was unbeatable because it had a solid message that other retailers could not compete against. Today, Wal-Mart has voluntarily given up this message in order to pursue what it perceived as greener pastures (higher-end retail). Unfortunately, it did this without developing a core message with complete consensus among board members and executives.

In fact, that is why I don't give Roehm "I'm a change agent" as much kudos as some. Her "follow-me-on-faith" approach left the world's largest retail giant without a message, at best, and with a message unsupported by its core consumer, at worst. Gee, I thought we already covered this lesson back when Miller beer alienated its blue collar consumer with ads aimed at a micro-brew generation. Ah, history, let's repeat it. Ah, history, let's repeat it.

Blog Archive

by Richard R Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template