Praecere In The News

December 21st, 2011

Rounding out 2011!  We’re honored to be mentioned in a few places online, check it out:

• PR Daily syndicated our recent blog post on what retailer Target had to do in the PR fallout from mandating employee time on Thanksgiving.

• Our friends at Lendio collaborated with us not once, but twice!  Santa must really like the Praecere shop.  Listen to their regular podcast series, where we discussed the latest news and trends for entrepreneurs of all stripes.  We also provided a guest post on the Lendio blog on quick PR tips for restaurants.

• Business2Community recently shared tips from 46 experts on the future of marketing in 2012, and our wisdom slots in at #19.

• People must have really loved our blog post on 5 types of PR agencies to avoid, as PR Daily re-re-syndicated it again a few weeks ago!

• Last but not least, we were invited by ExecDigital to pen an article on the PR and marketing genius of Steve Jobs.  The day the piece was slated to run was the same day Jobs passed away, but we made an editorial decision to keep the content unchanged, as the original version celebrated his insights in a fitting and tribute-minded way.  RIP to the greatest industrialist of this generation!

Cheers, and happy reading, Team Praecere

Things to do with a good new story

December 19th, 2011

Say you’re a business, brand, nonprofit, mom-and-pop, or other publicity-seeking entity. You’ve pounded the social media pavement, engaged bloggers across areas of interest, pitched reporters and editors across print and broadcast media, and more.  After all that hard work, with just scant results, you finally scored that precious big news mention you’ve sought for months.

You pop the champagne, give yourself a pat on the back, exchange a bunch of “man that’s a nice headline!” with family and friends.  Now what?

First, thank the reporter, blogger, or whoever took the time to cover your story.  They had the patience to learn about your efforts and report on things — so show some basic courtesy!

Second, keep pitching and promoting!  Don’t let that one headline lose its juice.  Make sure to tuck the URL into every single future pitch you make.  Share the link(s) on your own social media channels in the push to go viral.  High-level placements give you PR legitimacy, so take advantage of the momentum.

Third, use the news mention (along with others you have) to start building a nice media kit.  Host it on your site and include all the mentions in one organized, tidy place.

Fourth, remember there’s no reason you can’t go back to the same outlet with future news. Of course, make sure it’s not just a repeat of your sweet new coverage.

Write us if you want more basic PR tips, we’re at [email protected].  Cheers!

American Airlines Social Media Policy Should Follow Southwest’s

December 6th, 2011

So the story raging across Twitter, and then through MSM, is that actor Alec Baldwin was kicked off an American Airlines flight today.  The reports indicate that Baldwin didn’t comply with standard commercial aircraft procedure to shut off electronic devices; his publicist said Baldwin was just too engrossed playing Words With Friends to power down whatever device he had.  (Funny how some stories just thread right into others… but this blog digresses…)

Right now, American Airlines’ public relations is badly misstepping on several fronts:

Bad newsroom.  The story is surging across the news, yet amazingly, American Airlines has nothing posted on their official newsroom in response.  Even if American is still investigating exactly what happened before issuing comment, at a minimum the online newsroom should have a PR holding statement to this effect.

Bad tweets.  By openly and harshly insulting American Airlines staff, Baldwin likely lost significant sympathy across Twitter.  Still, American’s own tweets appear to kowtow to Baldwin’s childish rant.  Instead of going to the substance of the matter, the airline should wait until it’s collected all the facts before addressing the incident publicly (see the above point).

Bad precedent.  It’s not like similar incidents haven’t happened before.  Southwest Airlines certainly has seen its share, most notably with ejecting an actress for an aggressive public display of affection.  And today… Southwest is rolling (flying?) right along with their incidents squarely behind them.

Keep an eye on this one, as the story will definitely play out over the next few days.  If American Airlines wises up and follows Southwest’s playbook, though, the story shouldn’t go past a few more days, most likely ending in its favor.

Triple Bogey Brand Damage Is Hard to Undo

December 2nd, 2011

We all know about body doubles running rampant in Hollywood.  We even know they are used by F-list celebrities who sponsor various products.  If we actually watched such sleight of hand take place behind the scenes, the effect on the brand – whether it’s a star/starlet, product, service, or other business interest – would be real, and certainly not favorable.

That’s because when people see a familiar brand, they have immediate expectations.  The wizards behind branding – whether it’s the C-suite, marketers, focus groups, whoever – must ensure those expectations are met.  If a can of Coca Cola varies in taste in two different parts of the world, then the brand and the expectations that go with it get (ahem) watered down.  Similarly, when we see a global brand get really skewered (“Sunbucks”… really?  That’s the best you counterfeiters can do?), we recoil since our expectations are incongruent with commonly accepted notions about the brand.

So what do we think when Fiat, the Italian carmaker, misfires in a rather embarrassing attempt at brand-boosting?  The company recently ran a cross-promotion with the American Music Awards where Jennifer Lopez danced on stage… with a Fiat!  Probably one of the few times a car gets seduced on live TV.  Anyway… the performance was derided in major entertainment press, but that was only the start of the brand damage.

The first follow-up dent was the revelation that a concurrent Fiat TV commercial that seemingly featured Lopez driving nostalgically through her childhood neighborhood actually used a body double, and not Lopez herself.  That’s pretty bad, considering the ad’s narrative is all about Jenny from the Block reliving the best memories of her life.  PR lesson: keep the narrative consistent with what’s really happening behind the scenes.

Second, a blogger caught the Fiat breaking down in the middle of filming.  Not exactly the image of reliability any carmaker wants to promote.  PR lesson: unless you’re 100% sure of a product’s reliability, film in a controlled location!

And third … a mural artist whose work appeared in the ad without permission threatened legal action against FiatPR lesson: make sure PR and marketing work hand-in-hand with the legal department.

The sum total of these transgressions?  Quite a bit of online heat toward the Fiat brand, as summarized here.  Collectively, brand failure on this scale takes a lot of work to restore the desired brand image.

Three Ways Target Can Avoid a Black Friday Black Eye

November 22nd, 2011

You’ve probably heard about the mega-criticism that mega-retailer Target is facing over opening its stores for sales at midnight on Black Friday.  Judging from an online petition that’s collected nearly 200,000 signatures, and the torrent of negative comments on Target‘s Facebook page, the store is in serious need of immediate crisis PR strategies.

And what happens if Target misses its, er, target?  Well, the problem here is Target appearing tone deaf to the growing media narrative of corporate greed.  As Occupy Wall Street continues to gain more media attention, any high-profile company’s push for the bottom-line at the expense of workers (and perhaps American tradition) will almost certainly cause brand damage.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, which many claim Target has lost sight of, Praecere offers three basic points to help Target weather the storm:

Show the proof.  Despite the many helpings of criticism, Target insists shoppers actually want the store open at midnight.  If so, then prove it — put videos on social media feeds that show shoppers clamoring for the earlier store openings.  Transparency is still in corporate vogue, and if Target can’t prove that it’s truthfully yielding to strong customer demand, then its entire PR strategy will backfire.

Show the need.  Another claim Target makes in support of its midnight opening is that it’s necessary to remain competitive.  The problem here is perception: Target’s annual profits were nearly $3 billion in 2010, and it’s too easy for critics to seize on this single figure to paint the company as greedy, particularly on the eve of a holiday.  Target must provide better, easily palatable justification for the public to support this big time grab.

Show the CEO.  Nothing would resonate more than showing Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel working a cash register, sweeping floors, and assisting shoppers through the early Black Friday hours.  If the public sees Steinhafel sharing the same time and holiday sacrifice as all his employees, then the early opening might actually make a favorable impression.

Of course, the only way to measure brand impact is to total the holiday receipts.  Once those numbers are final, Target can assess whether it made a savvy business move.  But if it’s looking for a brand insurance policy, these simple steps might help prevent a full-on crisis PR fiasco.

How To Apologize Via Twitter, Part… Ah, We Lost Count

November 16th, 2011

The Penn State sexual abuse scandal and tragedy will prove a significant moment in future crisis public relations case studies.  For now, nearly all the attention has rightfully focused on the main elements of this epically sad case… and this blog will certainly comment from time to time as the story continues.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting that major PR crises like Penn State always have people on the periphery who get drawn in, sometimes without realizing it… and amazingly, sometimes by squarely planting their foot right in the mess.  A prime suspect this time is Ashton Kutcher, who just recently dealt with a PR crisis when caught shilling for pet investments on his current TV show, Two & A Half Men.

Kutcher issued an incredibly insensitive tweet after Penn State fired football coach Joe Paterno, gasping “How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.”  Clearly sensing public and online sentiment was effectively unanimously aligned against him, Kutcher later tweeted “Didn’t have the full story” and tried to apologize for his comments.  (See here and here for our take on previous high-profile Twitter apologies.)

Ok, fine, you might think — Kutcher at least owned up to his mistake, and didn’t want to appear indifferent to the scandal’s abuse victims.  Ideally he’d have left things alone at this point, unlike what he did in a past battle (also related to the matter of sexual abuse) with the Village Voice over whether he has his facts straight on human trafficking.

Instead, Kutcher made things even worse by announcing in a blog post that he’s turning over control of Twitter to a team of professional handlers.  This seems to be an overreaction to the entire matter; couldn’t Kutcher simply say he will wait to know all relevant facts when tweeting on major news stories?  Not only that, celebrities and major brands get the most mileage out of social media when fans and followers perceive that they’re hearing updates straight from the source, and not by wizards behind a curtain.

Simply put, Kutcher’s best crisis management strategy would have been to stand by his apology, and keep being himself and tweeting away.

3 Simple Ways to Make Your Content Marketing Work

November 7th, 2011

Editor’s note: We are once again honored to have a guest post from Mr. Dan Bischoff (his bio is at the end of this post).  Thank you, Dan!

In online marketing circles, content marketing is the new thing.  It builds a brand, establishes thought leadership, is the engine running successful social media campaigns, increases search engine rankings, creates interest and awareness, drives website traffic, and generates leads.

While there’s been a lot of recent adoption with content marketing in blogs, newsletters, podcasts, videos, whitepapers, graphics, etc., it’s nothing new.  Here’s a brief history (taken from this video from Content Marketing World):

  • In 1895, John Deere published The Furrow, a magazine giving farmers free tips and advice on how to grow their crops and be better at what they do.  Now, the Furrow has 1.5 million circulation in 40 countries and 12 different languages.
  • In 1900, Michelin published “The Michelin Guides,” a 400-page guide that helped drivers maintain their cars and find decent lodging.
  • in 1904, Jell-O distributed free copies of a recipe book that contributed to sales of more than $1 million by 1906.
  • In the 1930s, P&G created radio vignettes with brands like Duz and Oxydol (hence, the “soap opera”).
  • In 1982, Hasbro partnered with Marvel to create a GI Joe comic book.
  • In 1987, LEGO Launches Brick Kick’s Magazine.
  • In 2001, spending on custom content nears $20 billion.
  • In 2004, Microsoft launches first major custom blog, Channel 9.
  • In 2009, the average company company spent $1.8 million per year on content creation and distribution.
  • In 2010, 25% of marketing budgets are spent on content marketing and 88% of all brands use content marketing.

Throughout these milestones, there has been one constant: The power of story combined with free, relevant information, builds a brand.  There’s never been a better chance for companies to turn their business into a resource for people.  There’s never been a better opportunity to turn your company into a media company.

But how do you do it?

Whether it’s through blogs, videos, images, podcasts, or something else, use the platform you know best.  People consume content in all types of forms.  If you’re a writer, start a blog.  If you’re good at video, do what Blendtec and OraBrush do.  They focus almost entirely on videos.  How you do it, however, isn’t near as important as following these points:

1. Be Relevant.  This is most important.  Make sure your content is relevant to your audience.  With The Furrow, John Deere gave relevant information to help customers be successful farmers.  It wasn’t all about their tractors, it wasn’t a big ad, rather it was a useful magazine their customers wanted and needed.  Make sure your content gives free information and tips, or cover trends and news about the industry.  Do that, and your customers will similarly want and need what you offer.

2. Be Entertaining.  If it’s irrelevant, make it entertaining.  Have you seen the “Will it Blend” videos?  Watching a blender grind an iPad to pulp is never going to help anyone make a better smoothie.  But it will generate more than 12 million views.

3. Be Consistent.  If you don’t plan on producing good content consistently, then you’re wasting time.  Dedicate yourself to providing great new content at least 2-3 times a week.  When you’re starting, keep publishing consistent content to build an audience, even if it feels like you’re talking to crickets.

And that’s the blueprint to get started.  Content is king, so polish that crown!

About the Author: Dan Bischoff is the Director of Communications for Lendio, an online service helping business owners find viable capital.  He manages the Lendio blog, is a co-host on the Entrepreneur Addiction Podcast, and is a former journalist who has had stints at the Associated Press, the Salem Statesman Journal, the Deseret News and the Park Record.

9 + 9 + 9 = Ineffective Crisis Management

November 1st, 2011

With Herman Cain, the (d)evolution of his campaign’s response to sexual harassment allegations has marked a total failure on basic crisis public relations principles.  Here’s a rundown of all the mistakes made in just the past 36 hours:

Attacking the media.  When first confronted by Politico’s reporter (at least publicly — see the last bullet below) about the sexual harassment allegations, Cain snapped back, “have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”  Those in distress, take note — “I know you are but what am I” is not an effective crisis PR tactic.

Singing.  Any individual or organization facing a crisis PR fiasco has very limited time to respond to claims against them.  That means all air-time should be used wisely, and the bigger the platform you’ve got, the more resourceful you need to be with it.  With the National Press Club as his backdrop today, Cain should have used this stage to issue coherent statements and responses.  Instead… he sang!

Trying to be funny.  Whether the sexual harassment allegations are true or not, the offense itself isn’t suitable material for political punchlines.  Regular voters who might have supported Cain will certainly withdraw their support now.  Instead of joking about his predicament, Cain might have talked about how sexual harassment is a serious workplace issue in America.

Denyingthen sort of denyingthen acting confused.  Anyone in the crisis PR hotseat must stay consistent with their communications and messages.  Jumping all over the map is often the biggest blow to credibility.

Which brings us to the last point… and which also happens to be the biggest crisis management mistake by the Cain campaign…

NOT PLANNING AHEAD!  Sadly, this one’s a major failure for many sophisticated businesses and high-profile people.  They don’t anticipate such crisis public relations scenarios, and lacking the prior planning, the response becomes completely erratic.  Even worse: Politico gave Cain 10 days (TEN!!!) to respond to the sexual harassment allegations before it rans its story!  If only every crisis PR client had that same luxury.

And a footnote: The Cain campaign’s much-maligned “smoking” ad has done nothing to help his cause.  Some might argue about the “genius” of the ad, but having lost so much goodwill over that heated move, Cain has less support to turn to in this time of need.

What Blackberry Is Doing Right (So Far…)

October 27th, 2011

The last Blog Aesthetic post talked about the recent RIM missteps around the Blackberry.  Today’s blog post could continue that theme and examine the PR effect of the delayed/much-needed OS update for the PlayBook, now postponed until 2012.  (Which, no doubt, is not the kind of bad PR any handset company wants on its, ahem, hands while still dealing with the fallout from a massive service interruption.)

Instead, let’s focus on one small litigation PR step RIM took today, in response to class action lawsuits it faces over service interruption.  (Something which, BTW, our last blog post sort of predicted!  Hooray for Praecere…)  When asked for comment on the class action litigation, RIM wisely said it “has not been served with a complaint at this time,” and it “will formally respond to the matter in due course.”

And that’s exactly the simple, quick, and direct statement RIM needed to make in its litigation public relations strategy.  What would be nice, of course, is if RIM had some good news to use as a pivot against this latest broadside.  But in the meantime, RIM has deflected the hit for now, and certainly a few legal and business commentators will soon declare the class action lawsuits as frivolous litigation.  Now let’s see if RIM can continue to make careful PR steps as the courts determine the merits of these claims.

Blackberry BBX = (B)are (B)ones E(X)cuse

October 21st, 2011

In litigation PR, it’s critical to have a holding statement ready to go if when lawsuits are filed against your company or client.  ”We are reviewing the allegations … We will respond accordingly … Stay tuned for more …”  You get the drift.  The idea is to buy time until your next move in the court of public opinion.

But, what you should never do is make flatly absurd claims.  And that’s what Research In Motion (RIM) has done, per its crisis du jour (how much can one company stand, really?), this time with its new operating system dubbed “BBX.”  RIM was hoping the new platform would help it usher past recent troubles of global services outages, perhaps to change the media narrative to a positive one — particularly given the major media flop resulting from its PlayBook tablet.

Only problem?  A software maker called BASIS International claims they have a valid trademark going back decades for the name BBX.  RIM‘s response?  “[W]e do not believe the marks are confusing, particularly since our respective companies are in different lines of business.”

Uh, what?

You’re both companies that develop software… so it does stretch credulity to argue you’re engaged in a different line of business.  And that illustrates the continued problem with RIM‘s, er, playbook when it comes to crisis PR.  The company routinely responds in off-handed fashion to each of its problems, whether it’s the CEO storming out of an interview, or providing free kitschy game apps to apologize for services outages.  Each reaction seems to lack any linear link to the problem at hand.

And, this latest example of litigation public relations going past the boundaries of sensibility does RIM no favors.  Remember: in litigation PR, the first response must help bide time, and be in touch with reality.  If you can’t accomplish both those goals, back to the drawing board for you.

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