Posts Tagged ‘PR Disaster’

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The Art of Apologizing Online

November 4, 2013

This originally was published as my article in RSVP MN Magazine for September 2013. Click here to read it thereRSVP MN MAG SEPTMBER ARTICLE

We’ve all had to say, “I am sorry” to someone at some time (at least I hope so). We’re human. We screw things up and we need to make things right. The same thing happens in business. Probably more than we ever want it to. The problem of today, in business, sometimes when we screw up, it’s online. Instead of only a few people seeing it, the potential is that millions of people have now seen it. It’s hard enough sometimes to apologize person to person, and now you have to potentially apologize to hundreds, thousands or millions online. It’s a pretty daunting task.

Apologizing online falls into a completely different aspect of apologies. It tends to be very public. It is hard to convey feelings or emotions via text and 140 characters. It can easily be assumed to be false or not heartfelt or true, and in the worst cases it can be seen as patronizing and condescending. There are some basic best practices that need to be followed to allow your online apology to be accepted and that you are able to recover from the mistake that led to the issue in the first place. Here are five best practices to help you say you’re sorry online:

1. Respond immediately when there is an issue. In today’s age of business there is no excuse for not monitoring your name and brand online. There are plenty of free tools like Google Alerts, and push notifications from Twitter and Facebook to let you know when someone mentions you or your company online. We live in a time of instant communications, and businesses can no longer “wait to formulate a response.” In the time you take to formulate that response, the issues can go viral. Remember the Domino’s Pizza video of employees doing crude things to food? The company found out about it on a Sunday night, but waited until Wednesday to take the first step. By then there were well over a hundred thousand views of the video.

2. Always apologize on the same social or online channel where the offense or issue is mentioned. If it is on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp, etc., you need to respond to the report of the issue where it has been made. Even if you need time to investigate an issue, by responding quickly on the same channel helps convey the perception and thought that you care. Then keep the lines of communication open on those same channels until the issue has been resolved. Bystanders may see your efforts and at least understand you are responding to the situation. Going silent only hurts matters by letting the message and sentiment be formed in your absence. If there is no means to respond, such as the comment being made on a blog, website, or online publication which doesn’t allow for responses, use your own channels (blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to respond. Link to the original online remark (URL) to inform the audience to the details of the incident, when the issue is searched for in the future, your response will be tied to the issue that happened.

3. Explain what went wrong. It might have been as simple as someone sent out the wrong message or hit send without thinking. You need to let people know how you are reacting to the problem and taking steps to correct it. Without conveying any self-examination and action towards resolution, it will appear as if you don’t care and are doing nothing. Remember, online isn’t always as visual so convey these thoughts in words.

4. Explain what you are doing to correct the situation and what steps you are putting in place to ensure it won’t happen again. This goes hand in hand with the previous step. If there is no plan or evidence of changed behavior, it will appear you are insincere and not really doing anything about the problem, and hence you are thought not to care about it. Add links and evidence to show what steps are being taken if that would help. Copies of new company policies or guidelines would be great to post as would photos of corrections, and so on. Evidence goes a long way toward rebuilding trust in your actions.

5. Finally, use the apology as an opportunity to make amends. If you show that you truly realize the scope and magnitude of your actions has hurt your standing in the community, use this opportunity to become a better corporate citizen. Overachieve on your next endeavor, especially if there is a community benefit to doing it. Your brand is only as valuable as the audience that follows, supports and enjoys what you do and your role in their lives. It is all too easy to move on to the next brand. Don’t allow your brand to lose reputation credibility and following all because of a few missteps. The best companies in the digital age will plan for a strategy and policy that heads this off at the beginning rather than a plan that chases the tail end of the problem.

By mastering the art of apologizing online, you may be able to save your company, your brand, or hopefully at the very least, your job.

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The Paula Deen Effect and your Business – The Perils of Influencer Marketing

July 2, 2013

rsvpmn-logoToday I contributed a guest blog/article to RSVP MN Magazine. Here is the post also a link to the post on their site:

The Paula Deen Effect and your Business – The Perils of Influencer Marketing

By Christopher Lower, Co-Owner and VP of PR, Marketing, & Social Media for Sterling Cross Communications

For many years we have come to learn of the power that celebrity influencers have on businesses. It’s one of the hottest terms in marketing today: Influencer Marketing. Businesses are looking for that lift that can be achieved when a person with a huge audience on multiple communications channels speaks fondly of your service or product and endorses it to their audience. In the most wildly successful cases, it became a phenomenon called the “Oprah Effect” due to the frenzy of business activity a company would receive when mentioned on the popular Oprah Winfrey show by the host herself.

On the negative side of the spectrum would be what has been happening in current events and could be ascribed as being victim to the “Paula Deen Effect”. In this case, the person of influence has become associated with a negative event and has triggered a wave of impact across several businesses that were connected to her, either as a direct working relationship, or in an endorsement relationship. Because of her negative online reputation, and current public perception of her, any brands that are tied to her are suffering. There has been a massive wave of companies scrambling to distance themselves from her brand, many of whom have been intrinsically tied to her popularity in the past.

To be completely fair, Ms. Deen isn’t the only influencer to have a negative impact on brands when a scandal has been tied to their reputation. How easily we forget those like Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and so on.

This current case is only greater proof of how important the public perception of your brand and reputation is online. It affects the bottom line, and can impact the stock prices in public companies. It could be your greatest weakness and many companies don’t even know how they can protect and defend their online reputation.

Because of the nature of social media users to have an extremely short attention span, people are more willing to perceive what they find on search engines to be the true nature of your business. You are what Google says you are. Sadly, you are also only as good as the latest and highest search engine ranked review.

As “The Deen Effect” demonstrates, you are also affected by the online reputations and perceptions of those people associated with you. These range from your vendors, suppliers, resellers, channel partners, employees, board members, and anyone else that impacts your brand. Their negative reputations can harm you online as well. You may not have “celebrity” endorsements, but you do have influencers inside and attached to your company. You no longer can afford to not monitor your own company and brand, and it would also be beneficial to monitor the reputations of those associated with your brand where you rely upon them to conduct your business.

Many businesses are scrambling to put together teams that can respond to these new crises situations. These issues may occur across multiple communication platforms in an instant, and can go globally viral in seconds. Traditional PR professionals who don’t have both the crises communications skills and a mastery of social and mobile technologies are obsolete. Using interns to solve the problem is fine for their knowledge of social media tools, but inadequate to deal with the crises communications. You need a team experienced in both that can respond immediately 24 hours a day, every day.

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How one Ad/PR agency’s actions is killing three brands: Disney Pictures, AMC Theatres, & MN Parent Magazine

August 10, 2009

Have you seen the excitement that ensues when a child wins a prize?  It can be any prize really, but how about if a child wins tickets to a new movie such as the new 3D Disney Movie, G-Force? You would expect the level of that child’s excitement would be pretty high, and if you’re a parent you’re probably rating the excitement even higher imagining your own child’s reaction.

Now, imagine the crash of disappointment that child experiences when they arrive at the theater to be told that the movie theater is full to capacity (a half an hour before the start time) due to the fact that the Advertising/Public Relations agency (Allied Advertising & Public Relations) purposely overbooked the theater to ensure they had a packed theater. Not overbooked by a few tickets, they overbooked by at least a hundred tickets based on the disappointed families left standing in the lobby of the theater.

Those families were outraged.  There was no second theater opened up to accommodate the families they overbooked. There were no offers of passes to see another children’s movie showing at the theater. There was no evidence of customer service skills demonstrated by the three people from Allied Advertising what-so-ever, and sadly that ended up tarnishing, damaging, and for those parents of disappointed children, killing three brands: MN Parent Magazine, AMC Theaters, and Disney Pictures.

The sad point is that many companies are often in the dark about how their brand is being handled when it is out of their “direct control.”  MN Parent Magazine and Disney Pictures were unaware of Allied Advertising’s practice when contacted.  AMC was worse; their onsite management team was apathetic. They could care less that their patrons were affected by Allied’s actions.  The AMC manager, claiming she was the “highest authority” I could speak to regarding the Edina, MN location, said that the theater was not “responsible” since Allied Advertising had rented the auditorium for the event.

As a parent, who had brought three children to see the movie G-Force (Who is also a PR practitioner) I was appalled by the actions of Allied Advertising and their practice of intentionally overbooking movie premieres.  One would have to wonder if Allied’s practice of this was to boost their numbers for their client, Disney Pictures.  Disney Pictures should be concerned then that they are paying for such surreptitious practices and not getting true results for their money being spent.  If Disney Pictures is testing or hoping to gain market research insight, then every event carried out by Allied is tainted, and cannot be considered valid data.

One of the Allied Advertising reps did finally offer to pay for myself and the three children to go see any other movie playing that night, but only after I identified myself as someone that worked in PR and after they witnessed/overheard me call a local news station to speak with the assignment desk to report on the events happening and see if they wished to send a reporter. At that point the Reps from Allied Advertising were willing to do just about anything to get me to leave. Of the three other brands associated, only MN Parent magazine has reached out to all of the parents that had received “free tickets” through them and promises to have Allied provide free passes to see G-Force in theaters.  AMC and Disney Pictures have yet to respond to complaints submitted via email on their websites.

So who controls your brand once it is out of your hands?  Do you have vendors, resellers, distributors, field reps?  How are they caretaking your brand?  Will they respond with the same level of customer service that you provide to your customers?  What are the repercussions if they don’t?  How will you know if they are carrying through your brand?  Are you set up to monitor your brand once it is out of your control? What is the cost if you don’t?  What do you think?

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Horizon Realty – A Case Study in how not to handle online reputation management

August 3, 2009

It started out fairly innocuously, it was a single retweet on Twitter of a news source I monitor, but the headline was too intriguing not to read – Will one Chicago woman’s Tweet cost her $50,000? I immediately thought to myself; “boy, someone is in trouble…,” but as I clicked on the link and read the first article here, and then I saw it was a headline here and here, I quickly saw the writing on the wall, it wasn’t the person that was in trouble, it was the company referenced: Horizon Realty.

The company in their response and defense of the single tweet by a woman, Amanda Bonnen, with the Twitter username:  @abonnen, initiated legal proceedings seeking $50,000 in damages for claimed defamation.  This is the company’s right to do so.  It is even a recommended course in traditional public relations crises communications tactics, yet, it is never the first recommended course when trying to manage your brand and reputation online. It should be the last resort.

When someone brings out the giant cannon of litigation, without having investigated and addressed the message in a public forum, it is immediately seen by the public watching, as overkill.  The giant corporation is now seen as bullying, callous, and unfeeling towards its tenants in the actions it has taken in response.

The response the company was initially hoping to avoid (that of their reputation being besmirched by the remark, has instead inflicted 1000’s of remarks to their own reputation, when word of the lawsuit reached the Twitter community.  The Twitter community took the side of the woman, and began to tear the company to shreds online for its “heavy-handedness”, “Lawsuit-happy management”, and generally being “clueless” (all words being mentioned online as descriptors of the company).

The response by Horizon’s Jeffrey Michael in a Chicago Tribune interview  , was that they were a “Sue first, ask questions later, type of company.” Once again this irked the general public online. Michael later (1 day, an eternity online)  released a press release claiming the comments were meant to be “tongue-in-cheek”, and then delved into the details of some ongoing issues that Horizon has had with Ms. Bonnen and some prior complaints she has had with them.  AS you can imagine, this release was not received well online, and for a second day, Horizon was listed as a trending topic on Twitter as the negative conversations continued fueled by Horizon themselves.

In the first 72 hours that this occurred, the damage on the net was done.  It’s been classified as an example of the Streisand Effect – an Internet phenomenon where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be widely publicized.  Companies can no longer scoff at the idea that their reputation online does not matter, and that they have to participate in and listen to the conversations.  Horizon failed to do so, and the end results so far are these:

  • They became a trending topic on Twitter, meaning that they went from the 22 followers of Ms. Bonnen’s to being seen potentially by over a million people (of their own doing with the news of the lawsuit). The most recent 1500 comments can be seen here (it would be more, but that is all that Twitter has room for in their search tool).
  • If you Google “Horizon Realty”, four of the eleven first page listings are negatively related to the lawsuit. (Think of how that looks to a future potential tenant or someone searching for a management company).
  • Their reviews on Yelp have exploded from three listings prior to this event to 26 listings (ranging from annoyed to enraged) as of today keeping their ratings as a lowly 1 and a half stars.
  • Google Blog search shows over 16,000 blog posts that are already indexed, of which over 1000 include the phrase: “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization.” There are also over 14,000 posts mentioning Jeffrey Michael (predominantly in a negative manner)
  • Not only has Horizon Realty earned the onus of being attributed to the Streisand Effect on Wikipedia, Horizon Realty has its own entry page.
  • The story jumped to traditional media as well – earning mentions in the Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, The Wall Street Journal and too many other outlets (over 512 stories as of today’s writing) to mention.

Is there still doubt in your mind or in the minds of your company that social media doesn’t matter?

Crisis Communication on Social Media has to have different rules, since it is different from traditional media.  We recommend the following steps be in place as the basics for any online reputation management strategies and policies that need to be put in place:

  1. Always investigate complaints made & verify the facts and source.
  2. Responding to a complaint – where:  when possible, respond on the same site the comment was made.  If it was on a blog submit a comment – if the blogger refuses to post your response, notate this and publish your post on your own blog or website.
  3. When to respond: respond in as timely a manner as possible, when the complaint has been investigated. 24 hours is a lifetime on the Internet – waiting makes things worse.
  4. Legal action may be taken to protect your IP, Brand, & Reputation: but remember, Internet issues are tricky as there are 1stAmendment issues involved that may require special expertise. Slander, Defamation of Character, Harassment, and online Bullying laws can apply. Legal intervention is required in most cases to force removal of material from the Internet. Copyright Infringement could be involved in the case of brand or identity theft.

As you can see, escalating to legal action is an option, just not the first recommended option, and never until the first three steps have been taken.

The final thoughts I will leave you with are these – the best defense is a good offense:

  1. The conversation is happening online whether you like it or not – will you participate?
  2. It’s not good enough to be present online – You need to engage your audience and participate in the conversation
  3. Transparency and Authenticity rule the net – Lies and misrepresentation will always be found out and called
  4. True Customer Service comes from listening, observing, and engaging – then, providing a thoughtful, timely response.
  5. Perception online is always a consideration – if you are perceived as the bully in responding to a complaint, using threats, or worse – legal action that could be avoided, then you lose, even if you are in the right.
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What Happens When Social Media Goes Terribly Wrong? The Bacak Truth!

December 2, 2008

I finally have a horror story to show clients and CEO’s I consult with, as to what can truly go wrong with Social Media and your reputation.  Why it is so very important that you have a sound strategy before you enter social media and what are the ramifications of not being transparent, engaged in the communication, and being respectful of your audience.

Today, a self proclaimed “Powerful Promoter” made a drastic error in judgment.  He put out a press release about his own “success” in achieving Social Media Superstardom on Facebook and Twitter. I’m sure he was just looking to build up a bit of his own expertise, but he failed miserably in the process.  His claims met with derision, disbelief, and disgust.  In his own press release about himself, his language came across as a bit too egotistical to the mass readership and internet audience, and they decided to bring him back to earth a bit.

In Mark Bacek’s press release he claims; “Anyone can call their promotional abilities ‘powerful’ but I actually prove that mine are,” The problem is that this type of ego really contradicts the overall social media mentality which is basically “It’s not about you, it’s about the overall community” (as pointed out in Scott Baird’s (@mediapirate) blogpost here).

Mr. Bacek got his wish to go viral and become famous (infamous rather) in the social media communities. The uproar and backlash in Twitter alone can be seen here. It then went viral as Mr. Bacak was dubbed with the dubious title of “The biggest Douche in Social Media” (obviously not good for your company or brand) that went out on Digg and was sent up the flagpole with over 270 Diggs.

I feel very sorry for Mr. Bacak, he appears to otherwise be a nice guy, that committed a blunder that will cost him any and all online credibility.  The biggest learnings we can take away from this are:

1.       Marketing is no longer merely a declaration of your expertise, value, skills, product, it is a conversation.

2.       The community has just as much, if not more control than you of your brand

3.       It’s not about YOU it’s about EVERYONE

4.       PR & Marketing when done well online, will work

What have you learned from this?  Please leave a comment?

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Will the 2008 Olympics survive the PR “Disaster”? (part 2)

April 8, 2008

Apparently the jury is out on how the protests are going to affect the Olympics this year.  According to Reuters: NBC Universal has sold 75 percent of advertising inventory for its Olympics broadcast and has seen no discomfort from marketers over pro-Tibet protests against China, Chief Executive Jeff Zucker said on Monday.

Zucker told Reuters in an interview that Olympic advertising prices have been “incredibly strong” even amid political tensions and anti-China protests ahead of the August games in Beijing.

“The fact is the Olympics are a sporting event on the world stage,” he said. “It’s not surprising that some would try to use that stage to further their own causes and we understand that, but at the end of the day this is about the event and both the advertisers and our viewers understand that.”

So what is the impact of the negative PR of the torch relay?  Is NBC working on damage and spin control?  Will the mere fact of saying – “don’t worry all is well” mean that everything is well?  I’m not so sure.

Crises communications may be one tactic in this instance, yet I truly believe that the Olympics need to differentiate itself from its host country.  Now by no means am I saying that the IOC is as sanctified of an entity as they believe they are, yet the spirit of the games needs to take some strategic action to separate itself.

The spirit of the games has always been about the personal and team achievements on a global stage in a competition that is supposed to unify countries to support their representative athletes and break down barriers between the nations.  These stories of triumph will need to be told, and the more stories of human achievement will have to come out in order to regain focus on the games instead of the politics.  I don’t mean that we should turn our backs on the stories of the Tibetan people, and I believe that we need to utilize more and greater means of pressure on China to change its ways or it will never truly be seen as a good global citizen, as it had hoped that these games would depict them to be.

When it is all said and done, I am glad I am not the one tasked with solving this PR problem, but boy is it fun to think of ways to make it work…

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Will the 2008 Olympics survive the PR “Disaster”?

April 7, 2008

The major news channels have declared the 2008 Beijing Olympics a PR “Disaster.”  Every nation where the torch has made an appearance on its way to its lighting ceremony this August, it has met with both violent and non-violent protesters.  As I write this, there are police monitoring three individuals scaling the Golden Gate Bridge in California apparently with the intent to hang a banner of protest.

 

In videos of coverage of the parade, the jeers are far outweighing the cheers, the news-media is compiling massive amounts of footage of police and protesters, and Advertisers and Sponsors are nervous.  In light of the adage, that no PR is “bad” PR, can the Olympics survive the next days and months?

 

A PR “expert” (nope, it wasn’t me) went on one of the major cable news network today to try to suggest what steps the Olympics should take to turn this fiasco around.  He purported that the Olympics needed to separate the brand of the Olympics away from the brand of China.  It is an interesting theory and one that seems like a daunting task.  Aren’t the Olympics designed in part to be a showcase of the hosting country?  Isn’t that part of the brand appeal?  If so, can the Olympic brand survive the separation? How can it be done?

 

I would contend that the Olympics themselves have survived political strife in the past, and it still seems to come out “OK” when the dust settles.  The current news stories seem “bigger” and “louder” with the proliferation of the communications technology and social media tools.  Are the issues of Tibet and China any different or a greater atrocity than the events of the past?

 

At the Olympic Games, politics and sports are running mates, once wrote Richard Benedetto in USA Today. He mentioned a few:

 

Germany was not invited to compete in the 1920 Antwerp Games as punishment for its role in World War I. Defeated World War II powers Japan and Germany were banned from the 1948 Olympics in London.

 

In 1936, at the Berlin Olympics, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler proved to be a harbinger of World War II.

 

Japan was denied its chance to host the 1940 Games after it invaded China.

 

The Soviet Union did not compete in the 1948 London Games because it still hadn’t joined the IOC, but the Soviet-bloc countries started to defect to the West, a pattern that continued throughout the Cold War.

 

By 1952, with the Soviets becoming full-fledged members of the Olympics, intense competition between the US and the Soviet Union became a metaphor for the Cold War.

 

By the 1980s, Cold War competition had become so passionate that the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in tit-for-tat boycotts of the Games. US President Jimmy Carter, angered by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, led an international boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

 

Not to be upstaged, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kept his athletes from competing in the US-hosted Los Angeles Games in 1984, saying it was not a retaliatory gesture but a measure taken for the “security” of the Soviet athletes.

 

So it appears that the Olympic tradition has seen its share of political strife and turmoil.  It is after all one of the largest audiences of viewers worldwide, and with the advances in technology, each Olympic Games occurs in a time with more communications tools and technologies than its predecessor. So how can it raise itself above the buzz of the current media frenzy?  Or can it?  I’ll present some ideas tomorrow, but I’d love to hear some of yours…