News & Events Archive

Praecere President Babak Zafarnia Interviewed on CNN’s Situation Room

April 14th, 2011

Watch Babak Zafarnia‘s interview on CNN’s Situation Room, where he discusses crisis public relations per GE’s getting hit by a fake press release.

The Fractal Theory of Crisis Management and Public Relations

March 25th, 2011

Besides being fun for hippies to stare at, fractals offer enormous intuitive and guidance value.  Definitely one of the cooler mathematical models, fractals predict patterns in nature.  Fractal theory has enormously advanced many fields, including ecology, medicine, even special effects.

Of course, one might hope fractals can predict patterns in media coverage.  Wishful thinking… right?  Maybe not.

• Four years ago, Oprah Winfrey fielded allegations that the school she funded in South Africa was physically abusing students.  Oprah apologized and promised reforms.

• One year ago, Wyclef Jean fielded allegations that his Haiti charity had questionable accounting practices.  Wyclef (sort of) apologized and promised reforms.

• And the latest – Madonna is fielding allegations that the school she funded in Malawi is now defunct due to unethical management and cost overruns.  Madonna (you guessed it) quasi-apologized and (sort of) promised reforms.

If you’re a celebrity and wish to start your own overseas charity, how do you break this miserable crisis PR failure pattern?  Certainly not an easy thing to do, but one thing is clear: before you get started, have a respected third party – who’s a trusted authority on legal and ethical charity practices – validate and support your charity before you launch your operation.  Now that’s a PR tactic worth repeating.  Just sayin’…

For Parent Companies, Some Kids Just Can’t Leave the House

March 24th, 2011

MySpace’s downward spiral has definitely had its share of train-wreck watchers, but few things could have been more surprising than TechCrunch’s post yesterday about just how rapidly the site’s decline is accelerating.

We’ve written before about what MySpace might have done to save itself, at least with aggressive PR steps.  But, if the site’s numbers are dropping this quickly, all that’s left is what PR playbook News Corporation must run as MySpace’s parent company.

For starters, it’s unlikely News Corp will get caught up publicly on the cost issue.  Yes, $580 million – what News Corp paid for MySpace – could have bought lots of tickets to recent Fox film studio turkeys.  But for a company whose quarterly profits recently doubled to $254 million, it certainly can absorb the loss over time.

So if the numbers aren’t the biggest sting, then maybe the stigma associated with MySpace’s awful and cheesy reputation is what hurts most… right?  Nope, wrong on that account too.  News Corp’s red-headed stepchild Fox certainly isn’t shy about promoting the lowest of low-brown content.  Just look at how Fox Cable Networks’ 75% ownership of the National Geographic Channel has polluted that otherwise globally respected brand.

And of course, c’mon News Corp – calling MySpace the “premier lifestyle and social-networking site” – really??  Ditch this language, please.

Maybe all that’s left is for News Corp simply to own up that the entire transaction was a debacle, revel in the absurdity of the whole thing and move on – such an admission might humanize a notoriously unhumanizable CEO.  And that’s the winning PR strategy.

Praecere in the News

March 22nd, 2011

Our article on “Five Types of PR Agencies to Avoid” was syndicated by PR Daily, and also added as a LinkedIn “Top Headline” on PR topics:

Our work on behalf of our client, the Society of American Travel Writers, was profiled on Travel Industry Wire:

The Stamford Advocate interview where we offer advice on Fairfield University’s crisis management of a sex scandal:

The ABA Journal interview where we offer law firms advice on social media strategies, along with a hard dose of managed expectations:

The Art – and Ugliness – of the Twitter Apology

March 17th, 2011

We’ve recently analyzed the fallout that leads to a Twitter apology, a format that’s growing in popularity.  Presumably we shouldn’t be surprised – after all, who wouldn’t love to escape the principal’s office after ‘fessing up in 140 characters?

The point is that while a 140-character-or-less apology may seem superficial, it’s quickly growing as today’s mea culpa standard.  But, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be treated with the same care and attention one would normally employ when apologizing.

For example, a grown adult wouldn’t shout or sing an apology, right?  After all, yelling “I’M SO SORRY” really comes across as shrill.  That’s why proper tone is essential to crafting a Twitter apology.

Unfortunately for WNBA player Cappie Poindexter, shouting an apology was the best she could muster after she exclaimed on Twitter that the unbelievably tragic Japan earthquake and tsunami were signs that “God was tired of the way [the Japanese] treated their own people in there [sic] own country.”  (Here’s an excellent summary of this PR disaster.)

After the resulting outcry, Poindexter offered her Twitter apology:

Unfortunately, her decision to take to Twitter in such a rambling, incoherent, grammar-nightmare rant – AND IN ALL CAPS – actually makes her come across as insincere and mouthing words because she got caught, not because she feels remorse.

Apologies, an integral part of crisis management, are all about showing true contrition.  If you can’t show real regret in 140 characters, then Twitter’s not the place to repent.

Kenneth Cole Steps In It, Big Time

February 3rd, 2011

There isn’t much to say here, other than it’s a chance to watch crisis management unfold in real time.  As we all know, the uprising in Egypt is a push for freedom, the most beautiful media aesthetic there is.  Sadly, in their march toward fairness and universal rights, many pro-freedom demonstrators have been killed by a despot and his thugs.

The incredible bravery shown by Egyptians is the type of universal cause that should never, ever be exploited for commercial purposes.  Too bad the marketing department at Kenneth Cole, the luxury goods provider, completely missed the boat on this one.  A couple hours ago, they issued this horribly insensitive tweet to promote an upcoming fashion collection:

Screen shot 2011 02 03 at 1.32.37 PM Kenneth Cole Steps In It, Big Time

The company quickly followed up with another tweet claiming “we weren’t intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment -KC” — Kenneth Cole, full stop.  Here’s your way out of this mess:

1) Issue an immediate tweet that offers a very direct, strong, and sincere apology.  No stupid tap dancing around this issue.

2) Your company already has a blog devoted to social responsibility.  Immediately post an explanation about how this tweet came about in the first place, and explain the steps the company will take to make sure something like this never, ever happens again.

3) Get in front of the camera on this with a YouTube video and have your company leadership talk directly to the public about the mistake and corrective steps.

Without these immediate crisis PR steps, Kenneth Cole will continue stepping in it, big time.

Taco No-No: Taco Bell’s Crash & Burn Litigation PR Strategy

January 25th, 2011

Many of us continue to crack jokes about mystery meat from childhood memories.  Others keep the dream alive as adults, and sue alleged offenders – to them goes the glory!

If you haven’t heard yet, Taco Bell Corp. has been sued for false advertising, with claims that its products are not “seasoned beef” as advertised.  The point of contention is that Taco Bell uses “meat filling” to flesh out its tasty delights, which does not consist of approved USDA standards for food labeling.

Litigation PR counsels that a business have a holding statement in place should lawsuits arise in likely scenarios.  We can’t really say whether Taco Bell saw this one coming though, as they issued quite an angry statement in response to the lawsuit.  Here are some quick reasons why Taco Bell needs better litigation public relations counsel:

Man, that statement is evasive! Taco Bell’s rant essentially states that it does serve 100% USDA beef.  That’s fine and all, except that the statement does nothing to address the core of the complaint.  Take a look at the filings, which argue that Taco Bell products contain additional filler ingredients besides beef.

Never let them see you sweat.  A holding statement is not the time or place to attack opposing counsel.  Stick to the issue at hand, and use the statement to buy time for your PR pushback.

Speak, and speak consistently.  If your company issues a holding statement, get it across all your platforms at the same time.  Taco Bell’s Facebook and Twitter pages ignore the situation completely, leaving a big gap in communications.

Given these mistakes, Taco Bell needs to revise its crisis management and litigation PR strategy quickly, if it plans to avoid a big corporate black-eye as lawsuit discovery charts its inevitable course.

Which Is More “Dumb” – the Regulation, or the Effort to Repeal It?

January 25th, 2011

As promised in our last post, we now turn our PR analysis on President Obama’s recent declaration to dump “dumb” regulations from our federal codes.  Such calls to cut cumbersome or silly federal rules are often associated with Republican and conservative political circles, but we don’t have to go too far back to recall former Vice President Gore’s big PR push on the same front.  (In fact, Gore’s effort was far funnier, highlighted by an appearance on David Letterman.)

As we use this blog to discuss media aesthetic, let’s look under the hood with Obama’s new pet project.  Will it fundamentally alter the landscape of American business?  No.  Will it balance our federal budget?  Nope.  How about create some jobs?  Not even.

So what this amounts to is needless attention to toothless regulations that, at best, have extremely negligible impact on American society.

For an Administration that prides itself on substance, PR stunts like this are little more than a sugar high for random talking heads, with no benefit beyond that.  When you’ve got the most powerful bully pulpit in the world, even slight PR missteps like this can cause great embarrassment, no matter how well-intentioned.

Grade: C-.  Obama, you’ve got SOTU tonight – let’s hope you do a better communications job with the speech than with this “dumb” effort.

Yes, Virginia, Polls Do Matter!

January 25th, 2011

President Obama is rebounding post-November shellacking.  He has 53 percent job approval rating, and 40 percent of Americans see him as a moderate.  Still, the number that likely makes Obama cringe is unemployment, which remains stubbornly high at 9.4%.  So it should be no surprise that 4 in 10 Americans say jobs should be the top concern for the new Congress.  Thus, the first policy issue that Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans bring to the new session of Congress is … repealing health care?

The Republicans certainly know Obama and the Democrat-controlled Senate will not go along with this symbolic repeal.  So what is Boehner’s goal PR goal?  And equally important, what messages are the Republicans sending strategically and tactically?

Regardless of one’s opinion on this issue, one thing that is painfully clear: the conversation has come and gone.  Only 18 percent of Americans believe health care reform should be repealed.  And, repeating the mantra that health care reform “kills” jobs doesn’t mean that the new legislation actually does.

Whether it’s politics or a product, PR messaging must account for market forces and public attitudes.  Health care probably isn’t the best way for Republicans to continue leveraging voter discontent to their favor, and in this instance the issue likely won’t advance their cause(s) politically.

We’ll explore this theme of misguided PR tactics further in our next post, which will criticize the White House’s new PR attack on “dumb” laws and regulations.

Grade: C+.  Points go for aggressive tactics, but the substance should focus more on what polls show as top policy and PR priorities.

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