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Posts Tagged ‘Public Relations’

Picture 5I let our dog out into the backyard last night and twenty minutes later, the unmistakable smell of skunk barged in through the windows and doors and seemingly the walls themselves.  If you’ve never smelled a skunk, it can only be described as a three dimensional odor of hammering disgust: intense, intolerable and inescapable.  The large-hearted among us may be inclined to excuse the skunk since its low status on the food chain bestows such a nauseating means of self-defense, but no one with even modest olfactory capabilities can–the stink is just too strong.  And so I spent three hours staining Jack’s bounteous ruff with tomato juice, trying to cut the stench from horrific to merely awful.  In the end, Jack still had to spend the night outside, his hangdog expression clearly communicating that this excretion offended even his adventurous nose.

When you get hit by a skunk, you have to act immediately to clean up and then…wait. There’s not a lot you can do other than try to address the issue as best you can and then…endure.  More than anything else, time diminishes the odor.

Dominos got hit by a skunk a few weeks back in the form of two bonehead employees with a video camera.  Their CEO went on YouTube reasonably quickly, showed his disgust and disdain, and then…waited.  And despite how those disgusting images sear into the synapses, time helps the image fade, particularly once you realize this was a rogue act of a skunk.  Our home state got hit by a skunk in the form of Rod “Pay to Play” Blagojevich.  Actually, Illinois has a history of living in a cloud of stench from skunks that go by the title of ‘governor’ or ‘senator.’  Someone like Michael Vick didn’t get hit by a skunk, he was the skunk for the Atlanta Falcons, and they too had to scramble to determine a response that would be strong enough, before stepping back and waiting it out.

When brands are opinions and opinions enjoy the mass distribution channels of social networks, the once separate worlds of advertising and public relations. must converge.  And nothing makes that more obvious than those unfortunate moments when you’re sprayed by a skunk.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
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Imagine this: you are at a cocktail party: chatting, mingling, nothing out of the ordinary. Suddenly, a total stranger walks up and throws their Appletini in your face.  What do you do? Throw your drink in their face? Arch an eyebrow and toss off a withering bon mot? Or do you walk away, consult your lawyers, then return days later with a scripted response?

In The 24/7 Social Media Cocktail Party, You Will Meet Some Boors.

At The 24/7 Social Media Cocktail Party, You Will Meet Some Boors.

This is not an idle exercise; it’s actually a reasonable gauge of any organization’s comfort with the all-access world of social media.  Recently, a planner friend of mine told me how–metaphorically speaking–this very thing happened to McDonald’s after they posted a spot on a social networking site. Within the first few comments, PETA activists showed up and launched a coordinated assault against the ad, the restaurant, and most every aspect of the McDonald’s business. The client was horrified and wanted to immediately pull the posting; a corporate reaction that is totally natural and understandable.

But in this environment, it’s also totally wrong.  This medium is ‘social’–even if you are there as a corporation, the group expects you to behave like a human being.  You can’t suddenly lawyer up and start speaking in that robotic, Teflon language of corporate PR; this simply isn’t the venue.  Transparency is critical.  Imperfection is okay.  Immediacy is everything.

People go to social media to talk, so anything that happens, generates discussion and debate. Returning to the cocktail party metaphor, how would other guests view that unprompted assault?  They probably wouldn’t like it anymore than if someone launched into a strident political diatribe over crab cakes; it’s uncalled for and entirely inappropriate. Yes, the insult remains, the offense still happened and you will definitely need to get your tie dry cleaned, but in the end, the other guests will see that you were wronged, not wrong, and so based on your response, many otherwise neutral bystanders will now actually support you.

Negative opinions like these have always been out there, we just never saw them. They were never widely published.  We never had web-scrubbing programs that could uncover them and bring them to our attention. Now that we do, the real challenge is determining the importance of any particular negative comment.  Is that thought viral?  Or is it simply the rantings of a crank?  We need to know the difference.  If we respond to every potential threat, we will exhaust ourselves in the effort and waste untold resources on this fool’s errand.

At Element 79, we advise clients considering social media efforts to take a brutally honest look at their own corporate culture and assess how comfortable they are with public exposure.  A few take to it naturally, putting themselves out there in a highly-human manner, but many more recoil.  They worry about liability and the need to protect proprietary assets.  In the new world of social media, these clients are agoraphobic, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Emily Dickinson, arguably America’s greatest poet, was a noted eccentric who could not stand the thought of public spaces, and she did pretty well for herself. The same applies to client organizations; when you’ve made literally hundreds of millions of dollars over the years behaving one way, you need some strong fiscal arguments to change those ways. As of yet, there are no guarantees that entering social media will pay off for every organization. In fact you could create a rather compelling argument that to date, it has paid off for very few, and may never pay off for some.  Every medium is not appropriate for every organization–that truth endures.  The key demand today is for organizations to truly know themselves.

Which, interestingly, applies to people as well.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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What a difference a Phase 5 pandemic makes.  The drums of global hysteria grow ever more deafening as every news outlet screams the new name for horror: “Swine Flu.”

Keep A Sharp Lookout For This

Keep A Sharp Lookout For This

Swine Flu compelled Egypt to order the immediate slaughter of every pig in the country, Great Britain to order thirty-two million masks and the Chicago Public School System to temporarily shutter a few Elementary Schools.  Around the globe, new legislation, international travel bans and public service announcements drive home the deadly threat, even in countries with no current cases. 

None of this is good for pig farmers, particularly since their product has precious little to do with the outbreak.  While this flu virus did originate in pigs, every flu virus originates in birds, pigs or humans–that’s how they evolve.  The trouble is that  influenza mutates incredibly quickly in any carrier, which is why flu vaccines must constantly change unlike say, the vaccine for polio.  According to flu experts at the World Health Organization, this virus is neither food borne nor related to pork consumption.  It spreads solely through human-to-human contact; no one has contracted swine flu through eating, handling or even kissing a pig.

Regardless, the popular misperception persists and because brands are opinions, the Other White Meat brand now lies seriously compromised and decidedly devalued.  Of course, they have close company in the Mexican Tourism Board, which was already battling a dangerous drug violence concern.

Can a brand survive this type of reputation-riddling tsunami?  Not without a serious and aggressive investment in messaging.  Advertising can help the Pig Farmers, but a PR offensive would prove more immediately effective.  And they did accomplish at least a small first victory yesterday, convincing the World Health Organization to stop referring to it as “Swine Flu” and instead use the less memorable but more accurate “H1N1 Influenza A.”  Whether the Pig Farmers take action or not–and their website’s landing page so far ignores this issue entirely–having a clearly-defined task like correcting a mistaken perception puts pork is in a far better position than the multi-front battle facing Mexican Tourism.  Aye carrumba…

Of course, on the bright side, this story is spurring disinfectant soap sales by the boxcar.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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I’ve read and heard hundreds of definitions of brands over the years and while many of them are compelling in one way or another, most of them get bogged down in intellectualism.  To me, the definition is simple: brands are opinions.  

Of course, thinking of your brand as a collective opinion of your market reveals the classic notion of brand management as a rather hollow conceit.  Today’s socially-networked, highly-viral world enables the exchange of opinions with unprecedented reach and speed, thus the idea of ‘management’ overpromises; a more precise word would be ‘advocacy.’

How You Feel About a Brand = The Brand

How You Feel About a Brand = The Brand

Further, the Web 2.0 revolution means we no longer control every brand conversation.  To be truly effective today, we must move beyond the static concept of reporting structure management to a more nimble, balls-of-your-feet stance. Protecting and advancing consumers’ often quicksilver opinions demands we stay highly aware, consistently focused, and quickly responsive.

When I first started this blog, the convergence of digital and traditional advertising seemed critical to this changing industry.  Yet despite all the jawing and posturing, that is currently well underway; digital agencies are hiring traditional agency people and digital people are increasingly mainstreamed within traditional agencies.

Nevertheless, convergence remains the central issue, but it is increasingly the convergence of advertising and public relations.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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–nor in parking lots or street addresses or user experiences.   Brands have no tangible existence because they live solely in the hearts and minds of people, and nowhere else. Brands reside in the realm of opinion.  At least, IMHO. 

Funny, I Never Saw The Ronald Brand That Way...

Funny, I Never Saw The Ronald Brand This Way Myself...

Oh sure, things like advertising messages and product design and word-of-mouth all affect brands, but only so far as they impact hearts and minds.  And opinions.

By now, most of us recognize that opinions about brands can change very quickly, thanks to our socially-networked society.  On the upside, there’s the previously mentioned Susan Doyle who leapt from unknown Scottish spinster to international sensation almost overnight. But at the other end of the spectrum, there’s the disgusting and totally unfair incident that arose around an unwitting North Carolina Domino’s Pizza store.   To their credit, Domino’s Corporate did a good job in their attempt to address this issue in a timely manner, eyelines notwithstanding. But even the best-trained, most experienced brand managers don’t wake up anticipating they will be handling these types of quickly-fanned crises–there’s simply no precedent for this type of issue.

In a quicksilver media world like ours, we need to rethink the old silos that separate advertising and PR.  Because by now it should be abundantly clear that the business of creating and reinforcing consumer opinion never sleeps.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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