Tag Archives: Public Relations

Another BP #fail

At least BP covered all their social media bases.  You can find them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Twitter and even Flickr.  In a crisis situation such as the Gulf oil spill (you may have heard about it) social media outlets present a unique opportunity to circulate company messages in a timely and focused manner.  Concerned citizens can get updated information directly from BP in the company’s voice, without an attached agenda of news networks.  Information directly from the horse’s mouth – what a wonderful thing!

And surprisingly, as noted in NPR post, BP has been good about sharing information using social media, however their messages and tactics have not stood the test of time.  Meaning (strike number one) BP rushed out information using social media channels that turned out not to be accurate and (strike number two) they put out the same information using social media channels as they released through more traditional PR channels like news releases.

Broadcasting the same information over both social media and traditional channels is a completely viable strategy and messages should be integrated, but social media (especially in a crisis situation) requires a little something extra: conversation.  BP is just talking at people, which is okay for an ad campaign, but not very effective on Facebook where people want and expect interaction and conversation.  No one likes being ignored, especially over such an emotional and serious issue like the oil spill.  And with their anger building, many people are flocking to satirical, negative Facebook and Twitter pages like Boycott BP and @BPGlobalPR to vent their anger and avoid a lot of the inaccurate spin that BP’s PR team is pushing out.

So BP, in addition to washing pelicans and hermit crabs and stopping the bajillion gallons of oil shooting into the Gulf every second, needs to revisit their social media strategy or risk #failure in yet another aspect of this tragedy.


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HAPPO Day – A Post in Two Acts

Act 1:  I want to be a HAPPO day success story

Wouldn’t it be great if your company was featured in hundreds of blogs posts, magazine articles, mainstream media mentions, the Harvard Business Review as a social media pioneer?  I mean, YES.  And wouldn’t it also be great to have an employee who gets the job done creatively, cost-effectively and on time AND is a fun person to be around?  YES.

It’s really easy for this wonderful dream to become a reality.  Bring me in for interview, let me impress you with my knowledge of interpersonal influence theory (the topic of my Master’s thesis), and offer me a job.  What a great HAPPO day success story…for both of us!

A little more about me:  I am a graduate student at American University getting my Master’s in Public Communication in May 2010 .  I have been interning with Abraham Harrison LLC, a digital PR company, for the last 3 months.  Before school I was an analyst at Abt Associates, Inc. where I worked with government clients in Africa on health financing studies. I would like an account position where I can work directly with clients; writing, pitching, blogging, media training, event planning…all the PR good stuff.  No specific industry, I just want to be challenged.

Here is what I know:

  • It’s a breeze to budget and plan multi-million dollar projects (well, for me anyway)
  • Be persistent, but not annoying
  • Understand what and to whom you are pitching…make it personal
  • Have a sense of humor
  • Prioritize and finish the most important work first
  • Always try and figure something out before you ask questions – but always ask questions if you need to
  • Social media is above-all, a way to build relationships with consumers, not a sales outlet (unless you are @delloutlet, then that works for you)
  • Always respond and be active in the Twittersphere, blogosphere, all the “spheres” (a la Southwest)
  • Measuring “eyeballs”
  • I am a really good worker, I’m a good communicator (except from the ages of 13-17, when no one “understood me”), and even though it sounds cliche, I play well with others.

Looking for jobs is terrible, looking for staff is terrible (I had to find my replacement at Abt before I left).  Why don’t we both just end this terrible process and you give me a shot?  Then we can both relax with a celebratory happy hour Super Mug from Chef Geoff’s Downtown.

Hopefully your interest is peaked, so send me an email (elliebrown1@gmail.com) or Tweet if you want to chat more.

Act 2: What the heck is HAPPO day? (this one’s for you Mom)

HAPPO stands for Help a PR Pro Out, so today PR bloggers, agency leaders, and PR professionals from across the country will donate their time and talents to help fellow PR pros connect with employers as part of the first-ever HAPPO day.  Using the hashtag #HAPPO on Twitter, hundreds of industry professionals will click on this very link, realize I am what their company has been waiting for, and hand over a job (I hope).

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Team Southwest vs. Team Silent Bob

So I don’t have time to write two blogs.  From Marketing Conversation:

Which side are you on in this Twitterrific customer service debate between Southwest Airlines and director Kevin Smith aka “Silent Bob“?  I can understand both sides of the story, but personally, I’m with Team Southwest.  But Team Southwest but only because I think their communications team handled the situation well, not because of their customer service. Let me explain.

Last Saturday, Kevin Smith purchased two seats on a plane from Oakland to Burbank, which SWA claims is common practice for the not-so-small man.  However, Smith decided to switch to an earlier flight and fly stand-by which did not guarantee him a seat, let alone two.  After all the passengers with tickets were boarded, stand-by passengers like Smith were allowed to board.  Smith found a single seat, buckled up, and prepared for take-off.

Shortly after being seated, Smith was approached by a flight attendant who said she was told by the captain that Smith violated the airline’s “Customer of Size” policy that requires passengers that can not fit safely and comfortably in one seat to purchase an additional seat while traveling.  According to Southwest:

The spirit of this policy is based solely on Customer comfort and Safety. As a Company committed to serving our Customers in Safety and comfort, we feel the definitive boundary between seats is the armrest. If a Customer cannot comfortably lower the armrest and infringes on a portion of another seat, a Customer seated adjacent would be very uncomfortable and a timely exit from the aircraft in the event of an emergency might be compromised if we allow a cramped, restricted seating arrangement.

Smith was asked to leave the plane, placed on a later flight on which two seats were available and given a $100 travel voucher.

Enter PR nightmare for Southwest as Smith proceeded to inflame the Twittersphere with a barrage of angry rants about his experience.  Smith is a popular celebrity director/actor and has over 1 million followers on Twitter, so you can imagine Southwest was quick to respond.  Christi Day, Emerging Media Specialist, posted this blog in defense of the employees’ enforcement of the “Customer of Size” policy.  In my opinion, her response was to the point, addressed what happened and explained why the employees did what they did.

But, the rantings continued, even after Southwest personally apologized (well, so they say).  So, Linda Rutherford, VP of Strategic Communications, wrote another blog post apologizing again and noting that the airline employees could have handled the situation better.  She adds that Southwest will be reviewing the policy and trying to figure out a way to implement it better.

Good work Communications department.  I think your responses were timely and said everything that needed to be said.  One, you apologized.  Two, you said you’d address the problem and said you’d try to be better in the future.  That’s all I need to feel good about flying Southwest again.

However, giant fail for the employees on the flight.  It is incredibly obvious to me that this policy should not be “zero tolerance.”  The captain should have made a more calculated judgment about the safety and comfort of passengers on the plane.  The flight from Oakland to Burbank is a little over an hour.  I’ll give up half my seat to a “Customer of Size” next to me for an hour if it means not having to delay take-off because of this BS.

As a former frequent flyer, I’ve had my fair share of  inconveniences from passengers of size, passengers of snoring and even passengers of smelly feet, so I’m a fan of policies that help make the flying experience more bearable for those of us who usually just sit quietly and endure 10 hours of uncomfort so that no one is embarrassed.  But on a 1 hour flight?  Use some judgment Southwest.  And maybe just give the passengers on either side of Smith a $100 voucher.  We like those too.

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Is there an expiration date for Twitter?

Post I wrote for Marketing Conversation.  It’s a little long, but read it anyway :)

Much like milk with no expiration date, no one quite knows for sure when (or if) Twitter will go sour.  And it seems like everyone these days has two cents to add to the Twitter hype debate.  I can’t blame them.  It’s fascinating stuff.  Twitter’s ascension to become one of the top dogs of social media has been great fodder for every PR, marketing and business blog, magazine, newspaper out there.  Todd Wasserman at BrandWeek is no exception.  His article “Is Twitter the Next Second Life” discusses Twitter’s influence in social media and compares its diminishing popularity with the decline of Second Life.

According to Wasserman’s article, in mid-2009 Twitter’s growth slowed from 7.8 million new users joining each month to 6.2 million.  He describes Twitter as a “wasteland” for brands as some companies are beginning to realize that a Twitter strategy “is not particularly relevant to what they are doing on the branding and advertising side.”

Even worse, I just read through a recent survey report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project focusing on internet and social media usage by teens and young adults that said teens are not using Twitter in large numbers anymore.  Only 8% of internet users aged 12-17 use Twitter, making it as common among teens as visiting a virtual world.  Ouch.  Tough luck Twitter.  Looks like your 15 minutes of marketing fame might be up.

But maybe not.  Chris wrote about this very issue back in June 2009 and suggested that while Twitter is definitely suffused with hype, its hype is sustainable.  He praised Twitter for being light, cheap, and open while criticizing Second Life for being heavy, expensive and ephemeral.  Twitter’s sustainability comes from allowing people to access the medium in ways that work for them (e.g. desktop applications, mobile access) and for being committed to the community and meeting their wants and needs.

I think Wasserman’s article, although starting out in the “Tough luck Twitter” tone, moves more into a discussion of how Twitter has worked for certain companies.  The article stresses that companies need to learn how Twitter can add to their social media strategies before jumping on the bandwagon and becoming part of the “wasteland.”

The beauty of Twitter is that companies can use it in ways that work for them.  Wasserman describes @DellOutlet as Twitter’s large brand success story, and it is.  Dell needed a way to quickly sell merchandise and Twitter presented an easy way to reach out directly to their customers.  Comcast also gets an award for making Twitter work for them.  Customer service and cable were never synonymous until Comcast took to tweeting.

Wasserman says that sometimes the best policy is to hitch your brand to a personality.  I couldn’t agree more.  Interpersonal communication only works if it’s between people.  Small businesses seemed to have gotten this right, including Someecards and the custom t-shirt company OddFit mentioned in the article.  These companies use Twitter to express the “mood and swagger” of their brands through the creative personalities of the people behind the brands.  And it’s worked well for them.  Someecards has 1.7 million followers and OddFit has a small, but active cohort of loyal customers; something that small businesses may prize more than a larger, inactive following.

Now I know this post is already well over the 140 characters that most of you Twitter-lovin’ readers are used to, but I’d like to add my own two cents to the Twitter debate.  My first point addresses the potential for Twitter to become a “wasteland” of companies , and my second offers a reason for the decline in users and a prediction for future increases.

  1. That Twitter represents a paradigm shift in the way customers interact with each other and with companies and brands is a bit of an exaggeration.  We still rely on our social groups for information, recommendations, and entertainment; and tend to trust those groups more than mass media.  But now, with Twitter, companies can become part of that social group.  However, before they jump on in, companies need to first understand how they can use Twitter as part of an integrated social media strategy and how it can best work for them and, more importantly, their customers.  Will it be customer-service based, sale-based, just a way to say “hi” to customers, or some other strategy we’ve never even thought of yet?
  2. Twitter has yet to catch on with the late-adopters and laggards. These people wait until a majority of their social groups has adopted the behavior before they will try it themselves.  Teen tweets might be slowing, but teens are usually more on top of the technology trends than the rest of us.  As more of these people learn how to use Twitter and learn how it can benefit them, I expect the number of users to continue to increase.  I think the DC Snowpocalypse is a great indication of Twitter utility for even the most resistant social media user.  I mean, who doesn’t want to know where they can get a beer and burger in a blizzard?  I know my previously Twitter-resistant boyfriend thought this was pretty darn cool.


Filed under Public Relations, Social Media

PR is like, totally cool now

Let’s hope the warm and fuzzy feelings continue.   From the Economist:

According to data from Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS), a private-equity firm, spending on public relations in America grew by more than 4% in 2008 and nearly 3% in 2009 to $3.7 billion. That is remarkable when compared with other forms of marketing. Spending on advertising contracted by nearly 3% in 2008 and by 8% in the past year. PR’s position looks even rosier when word-of-mouth marketing, which includes services that PR firms often manage, such as outreach to bloggers, is included. Spending on such things increased by more than 10% in 2009.

Read the whole article here.

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It’s All About the Frame

An essential part of communication – be it political, commercial, love letters, whatever – is how the receivers of the messages you create interpret and understand them.  Public relations  includes the  practice of designing these messages in such a way to focus on a particular dimension of a particular issue…in other words, framing the message.

Take for example, climate change.  How many of you associate climate change with the lone polar bear floating on his ever-shrinking iceberg?  This frame highlights the environmental seriousness of the issue and the threat of global warming to animals and their native habitats, but unfortunately has done little to generate the type of public support needed to seriously address the issue.  Although Mr. Polar Bear is cute, his plight is not enough to make you (or me) really pay attention.

But what if I told you that climate change makes your allergies worse?  That it presents a risk to public health?  Paying more attention now, huh? It’s all about which dimension of an issue you highlight that makes people pay more or less attention to your messages.

I’ve written all this because 1.)  I’m a know-it-all grad student now, and 2.) I just read an amazing article on Newsweek called The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage that beautifully re-frames the gay marriage argument to say that gay marriage does not conflict with, but actually reinforces the values conservatives prize.

Read the article.  It made me want to stand up in my apartment and applaud.

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Apple is Greater Than Bristol Palin

This morning around 10:30 AM the two most popular stories floating around the PR Twittersphere are 1.) How Apple Does Controlled Leaks and 2.) Bristol Palin Sets Up Public Relations Firm.

The first, from  the MacObserver, is worthwhile PR information.  Apple proves once again they are 16,000 steps ahead of the rest of us and have been orchestrating controlled leaks for their new, yet to be released products for years. Here is how they do it from author John Martellaro.

The way it works is that a senior exec will come in and say, “We need to release this specific information. John, do you have a trusted friend at a major outlet? If so, call him/her and have a conversation. Idly mention this information and suggest that if it were published, that would be nice. No e-mails!”

The communication is always done in person or on the phone. Never via e-mail. That’s so that if there’s ever any dispute about what transpired, there’s no paper trail to contradict either party’s version of the story. Both sides can maintain plausible deniability and simply claim a misunderstanding. That protects Apple and the publication.

Controlled leaks are almost always the solution to a problem. In this case, it could have been that Apple needed to release the tablet information early because they wanted:

  • to light a fire under a recalcitrant partner
  • to float the idea of the US$1,000 price point and gauge reaction
  • to panic/confuse a potential competitor about whom Apple had some knowledge
  • to whet analyst and observer expectations to make sure the right kind and number of people show up at the (presumed) January 26 event. Apple hates empty seats and demands SRO at these events.

Brilliant Apple, just brilliant.  And thanks Twittersphere for bringing this to my attention. This strategy will surely add to my arsenal of PR knowledge that perhaps someday I can use for my own clients.

Now we come to the second story of the hour, Bristol Palin’s PR shop.  The first article I read was from Bloomberg stating:

Bristol Palin, the eldest daughter of former Alaska Governor [she who must not be named], has set up her own public relations firm, according to articles of organization filed with the state Commerce Department.

The single-member limited liability corporation will be known as BSMP LLC and based in Anchorage. Bristol Palin, 19, signed the document as the organizer.

What does Bristol Palin exactly know about PR?  Well, I guess she’s learned from the best (mom) about how easily the public can be manipulated.  But with a little more digging I found some refreshing news.  From PR Junkie:

The story is true, sort of.

Back in September, Bristol Palin filed papers in Alaska establishing a limited liability corporation (LLC) called BSMP, which are her initials. The LLC provides lobbying, public relations and consulting services.

Does this mean you’ll be rubbing elbows with the younger Palin at the next PRSA conference? Probably not.

Bristol Palin is a spokesperson for a pro abstinence organization called Candies. She set up the LLC for tax purposes, so she can be paid as an incorporated entity instead of as an individual.

Phew!  Safe for now.  And this story is ridiculous, I’m sorry I spent so long reading it and even more sorry I spent so long exacerbating the problem by writing about it.

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