Posts Tagged ‘PR’

How Facebook Could Have Crushed the Negative Press from “The Social Network”

October 25th, 2010

While the PR industry still tries to solve a vexing riddle – how to quantify ROI and metrics of a PR campaign – there certainly is one big PR matter where the numbers do not lie.  As of today, “The Social Network” film, the Hollywood send-up of fact and fiction about Facebook’s rise to social network domination, has grossed $73 million within a month of release.  That puts it in the top five cumulative box office totals for 2010, a fairly significant number since the year’s about to end.

As the film made waves in the press before and after release, there was significant speculation that CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the Newark school system was meant to distract media attention away from the film.  Not surprising, since “The Social Networkdoesn’t exactly paint a sympathetic portrait of Facebook’s founders.

Of course, it’s hard to criticize such a large investment in the public school system.  Still, if that philanthropy was meant to kill negative headlines stemming from the film, we’d like to think there was a much easier, and more on target, way to do so.

What we’re wondering is, why didn’t Facebook instead launch an official “Facebook Film Festival”?  Think about this for a moment.  A Facebook-sanctioned film festival could enlist hot young filmmakers to showcase their talents in a trend-setting multimedia format, expanded the social network platform more aggressively, been done at little to no cost to Facebook, would quickly co-opt the “film” media meme away from the movie, generated enthusiasm from Facebook users, and leveraged the multiple film festival fan pages that already exist.  The PR theme could have promoted “an honest filmmaking process” as a dig at the apparent falsehoods in “The Social Network” – the perfect antidote for the film’s negative portrayals.

Big PR problems require grand solutions, but simplicity adds elegance to our scenario, and steals the film’s thunder by creating and owning a whole new film-making process.  Maybe Facebook will think of this when “The Social Network” hits DVD?

DC PR Firm Dispatch: The Miners vs. BP

October 15th, 2010

Problem: Let’s say you have a media-related situation, and as a client you want a PR firm’s help. Here are the key factors:

• Natural resources disaster;

• People killed, or near imminent death;

• Worldwide media focused squarely on you;

• 24/7 images and video convey the stark reality;

• Crisis will certainly last weeks before the quickest solution becomes available;

• All your fellow citizens are united in their anger and frustration.

Of course, we’re talking about the Chilean mine rescue… or are we talking about BP? On the surface (forgive the pun), the two crisis situations actually shared many common factors. And, they both have been resolved. Of course, we know the miners thankfully had a happy ending — they were all rescued. And as we further know, BP’s oil spill disaster, though it did significant ecological damage, also thankfully came to an end.

But why is it the world celebrates the miners’ rescue, yet gave BP a global chastising? One word: transparency. Time after time after time, BP’s own words, deeds, and track record either got tangled in miscommunication or shameful double-speak. The Chilean government, on the other hand, kept everyone continuously informed with the truth and built considerable goodwill for their actions. We’d bet that even if the mine rescue hadn’t gone as smoothly as it did, there would be some forgiveness offered for the considerable effort made.

Advice from a DC PR Firm: When the crisis starts, keep your facts straight, the explanation simple, and then you can ask the public to believe.

Bravo Chile!

PR to Put F1 Circuit Builders in Pole Position

September 25th, 2010

The Blog Aesthetic is very excited for the impending return of Formula 1 racing to the US in 2012, a delay of too many years for the grand motorsport.  With Austin planning to host the next US Grand Prix, the international competition is sure to leave its mark in style on American soil.  This new presence includes the circuit being built to host the race.

And, when there’s hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, PR will always be a key – and necessary – part of the equation.  Case in point: the crushing criticism leveled by one of the sport’s most respected authorities against the racetrack designer.

In the latest episode of Formula One Debrief, the sport’s most comprehensive televised news report, racing analyst Sam Posey offered his prescription to correct some of the sport’s biggest troubles.  Posey lashed out at famous racetrack architect Hermann Tilke, claiming that Tilke’s firm was lazy and uninspired in creating challenging and dynamic circuits.  Posey’s lead message in his report, broadcast to millions?  “Stop Herman Tilke.”

Posey’s criticism, rightly or wrongly, carries huge weight and authority with F1 fans – and by extension, Formula 1 sponsors and investors.  If we were advising Tilke, we’d tell him to push back hard in the media and focus on a central message: the new Austin circuit is the wave of the future for F1Tilke certainly has the credentials to support his work, given that he’s developed 20 circuits for international competition.

As a basic public relations strategy, Tilke should immediately line up his firm’s business partners and F1 sponsors to provide ringing endorsements for the new Austin track.  Doing so would help stop Posey’s criticism in its tracks.  And that’s no small matter, given the massive global audience and stakes involved in F1.

Try the Frankenfish, I Hear It’s Excellent Today

September 22nd, 2010

Sick of crabcakes?  Do you cry “enough already” when scallops are the entrée?  Don’t pout (pun coming in a couple of paragraphs below) so soon, Frankenfish may be on your plate one day.

Here’s the PR dilemma: AquaBounty is a biotechnology company that genetically engineers various aquatic species for commercial use.  It’s not as bizarre as you may think; genetically engineered food has been around for a while as an accepted practice.

AquaBounty produces the AquAdvantage salmon, engineered in combination with the ocean pout, an eel-like fish, and growth hormone from another salmon species.  At question is how current FDA regulations affect labeling of genetically engineered foods.  Thus a titanic clash is brewing, with organic food producers and issues-based group opposing the so-called Frankenfish.

As government regulation is in play, this becomes a classic public affairs battle.  In these fights, the key is to define the issues of importance to your side before the other side does.  Given that the word “Frankenfish” already has prominence in search results, it looks like AquAdvantage has lost considerable ground.

To make things worse, the company’s website has an overly technical and meandering FAQs ingrained with corporate jargon-esque doublespeak.  Instead of devoting so much attention to whether FDA regulations allow sale of such modified foods, AquAdvantage would be better off in the PR skirmish to talk more about the nature of the food, in everyday terms that key stakeholders – grocery shoppers, blogging moms, and food safety advocates – are likely to understand and appreciate.

Verdict: AquAdvantage?  More like AquaDisadvantage.

Your Product Just Got Slammed by the New York Times… Who’s Got the Champagne?

September 20th, 2010

Yes, it’s a slightly counter-intuitive headline, but there’s a PR upside to getting grilled by the New York TimesDavid Pogue, NYT’s resident tech guru, reviewed Monsoon Multimedia’s new Vulkano TV set-top box.  (Can’t say we’re crazy about the name, but it could be worse.)

Pogue didn’t have much positive to say about the new gadget.  He claims the Vulkano is “riddled with bugs, problems, limitations and absurd design flaws.”  If you’re in the market for any tech product, you want it to be reliable, flexible, and intuitive.  Based on Pogue’s review, Vulkano is the polar opposite of all those traits.

Now, you may think it’s time for Monsoon Multimedia to start drowning its collective sorrows… we’d argue that it’s actually time to pop the bubbly.  Here’s why:

You made the New York Times!  As the top tech reporter for the top media outlet in the U.S., Pogue no doubt gets inundated with freebies and other loaners for reviews.  There’s no way he’s got time to write up all of them.  The fact that he made Vulkano the needle in the haystack speaks well for Monsoon Mulimedia’s marketing efforts.

Lack of arrogance.  When Pogue asked the company if it was aware of Vulkano’s problems, no one did a duck-and-cover or feigned ignorance.  The product manager went on the record acknowledging that the flaws were real, and that the company is working on fixes.  People like to see businesses correct their errors instead of arrogantly proclaiming “all’s well” like some delusional minster of propaganda.

Small steps to earning goodwillPogue hints that if Vulkano gets its act together, he’d be game for a future review.  Presumably Monsoon Multimedia will follow-up at that time, and if the problems are resolved, a positive review (and additional media kudos) should follow.

Of course, sending your funky (as in nasty, not cool) flagship product for review isn’t an advisable PR strategy.  But in this case Monsoon Multimedia can turn glitches into ginger ale, and possibly get a solid PR outcome.

Don’t “Censor” Your Call to Action

September 7th, 2010

In the wake of Craigslist “censoring” its adult services section, commentators and the media continue to read the tea leaves rather aggressively, trying to divine what exactly are the site’s motives.

The move can be viewed as an absolute PR calculation.  Of course, when there’s subtext, it’s worthwhile to analyze what that is.  In this case, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster has posted several entries on the official site blog that make the company come across as rather angry.  On the blog, Buckmaster takes shots at CNN, competitor adult personals sites, eBay (which owns part of Craigslist, oddly enough), human rights advocates, and various state attorneys general, amongst others.

CNN in particular gets quite a bit of heat, given its recent ambush interview of the site’s founder, Craig Newmark.  Of course, as a network that once paused for breaking news to report the incredibly pressing story “horse stuck in mud” and other hard-hitting content, Newmark shouldn’t lose too much sleep over CNN’s antics.

Still, tirades rarely go over well as a PR strategy, as the objective observer often assumes that passion, not reason, guides the aggrieved party’s messaging.  The same perspective certainly applies to Craigslist.  Even though countless advocates and communications experts agree that the site certainly has 1st Amendment protections for its content and a DMCA shield, simply applying the “censor” sticker without a call for action is, at best, a curious PR tactic.

If Craigslist simply wanted people to talk about the issue, then fine, mission accomplished.  But, if the site wants to mobilize the masses who peruse its 50 million new monthly ads and call out perceived hypocrites in the law enforcement and advocacy communities, it needs a more focused PR strategy with carefully articulated points (not random blog posts) and demands consistent with its goals of freedom and transparency in communication.

We’ve seen the launch point, now let’s see the follow through…

I Work in PR, and This Is What I Do

September 2nd, 2010

Once upon a time, a recruitment poster for an aid agency showed an American staffer and his Cambodian counterpart on motorcycles in the native jungles.  The basic message was, “this is my job, it could be yours too.”  Now – to someone who loved Motorcycle Diaries and dreamed of motorcycling through Cambodia (or any developing country), this was a very effective ad.  In fact, it helped spur The Blog Aesthetic’s love for international development and the NGO world.

As noted in a recent PRWeek bulletin, Praecere is the agency-of-record for the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP).  This amazing group parachutes the world’s best photographers into endangered and stunning sites to document what could be lost if a major development project in that area goes forward.  Ideally, these images spur public outrage and action against the project.  Praecere is guiding the iLCP’s current Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE) in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia.  At stake?  The rights of the First Nations people, one of the most pristine marine environments in the world, and the home of the mystical white “spirit bears” revered by the First Nations.  We are helping implement a social media strategy with dozens of partners, securing major Canadian and US television coverage, and planning a large press conference in Vancouver to release the images to the world.

As we sit here in Prince Rupert, Canada awaiting a floatplane to the Great Bear Rainforest, we can’t help but think we’re now the guy on the recruitment poster: “I work in PR, and this is what I get to do.”

PR often gets knocked for being too consumed with products, widgets, and sloganeering.  But the other side of the coin is that PR can be used to protect the environment, help defend the rights of indigenous cultures, and brand and grow an organization in the process.  This is the side of PR often not covered or even discussed.  If successful, we will stop a major pipeline project by a company with a horrendous track record of safety (or lack thereof) from destroying a place people rely on for their livelihoods.

Praecere took this account to publicize one of the most unique conservation groups operating today, and show everyone that PR is not an ugly term only used for shilling corporate goodies.  To follow this RAVE expedition and to stay abreast of the characters and storylines, please visit iLCP’s blog “Expose”, the iLCP’s Facebook page, and keep visiting The Blog Aesthetic.

Social Media 3.0: The “Next Big Thing” Just Might Be the “Great Tune Out”

August 30th, 2010

(Where is that “dislike” button when we want it?)

Everyone in PR is on a non-stop sugar high for the “next big thing” in social media.  We are curious as practitioners, and clients are equally curious on how to maximize business and outreach opportunities.

As with any discipline, the clues to the PR industry’s future could be in the past.  When we look at common forms of 1-to-1 marketing communications, we quickly see their pros and cons.  And, with each con comes a certain marketplace (or state) reaction.

Personal solicitation.  Pros: In person, face-to-face, about as direct as it gets.  Emotion and gestures significantly enhance the communication, and help the communicator gauge the recipient’s reaction and calibrate accordingly.  Cons: Um… when was the last time someone knocked on your door on a weekend morning?  Unless the recipient sought out the communication, solicitation is about as annoying and jarring as it gets.

Mail.  Pros: Targeted mailings can hone in on demographics and appeal directly to the likely customer base.  Low-cost production tools and software allow for slick material presentation.  Cons: Like solicitation, mail can be very annoying.  Using (wasting?) all that paper runs contrary to the common business drive to be eco-friendly.  Privacy concerns are real with stolen mail, such as credit card solicitations.

Phone.  Pros: Similar to personal solicitation, the caller can follow a script with options that directly address the recipient’s questions.  Cons: The advent of the government-mandated do-not-call registry speaks for itself.  Calls always seem to come when you get home after a long day at work, doubling your blood pressure.

Now, take a step back from the pros/cons.  If you think about it, each time these innovations in marketing/publicity appeared or became evident, they were heralded as the “new” way of communication, which everyone would be eager to embrace.  Yet as time wore on, each fell out of favor in that regard.  The communications tactics became associated with duplicity, insensitivity, and utter disregard for personal preference or privacy.

Fast-forward to today, and the hot tactic in public relations is… SocialMedia24/7In your face.  “Speak directly to stakeholders.”

As much as our industry extols social media as the most important PR trend, the problem with social media is that it too can overreach.  Indeed, with new technologies sprouting up that help people block social media feeds, it’s legitimate to ask whether social media risks being branded as the next big ANNOYING thing.  Even if users opt-in to your social media messaging, that doesn’t mean they’re thrilled with complete bombardment of everything and anything your company is doing.

Here’s a simple way to look at it.  Everyone on Facebook, Twitter, etc. likely has a friend whose inane status updates (“brushing my teeth” … “turning on the TV” … “wonders if it’s all worth it” … “boy it’s raining!”) have pushed that person to the block/unfollow wasteland.  Similarly, if your business has daily social media updates like “cleaning the floors” or “we love Mondays” or “high power bill, AGAIN!” then you’re likely overextending yourself.

The solution is to publish worthwhile content, thus not posting just for the hell of it.  This is a fact of life: when we’re wooing a client, customer, love interest, whoever – nothing speaks more than smart, substantive communications.  Your social media strategy should not be everything-and-the-kitchen-sink.  Target your promotions, updates, and messaging so that followers get excited when they read about your activity, instead of reflexively clicking “block this user.”

Take time to craft a metric-driven public relations strategy that leverages social media when relevant, but appreciate the fact that content is always king.

Even BP Knows When Some News Is too Good to Be True

August 23rd, 2010

Any practitioner of crisis communications knows that some of their best work will never be seen or heard.  In the world of PR, disproportionate credit is given for the big media hit or the well-executed television appearance.  It’s harder to quantify the bad news cycle that never was or the controversy that seemingly disappeared over a few days – and often, that’s the harder media tactic to execute.

Take for instance the poster child for bad corporate and PR behavior – BP.  We’re all aware of BP’s string of PR missteps since the Gulf oil spill happened.  Yet despite these blunders, BP actually was way ahead of the curve on the latest (and unfortunate) news from the Gulf.

BP is to be credited for not exploiting what could only be described as a golden egg by the US government, when the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a startling report that got everyone’s attention.  NOAA and EPA Administrator Carol Browner claimed that roughly 75% of the spilt oil had “disappeared.”  Browner even took to Good Morning America to crow about “Mother Nature” taking care of the oil and said it was open season for fishermen.

Imagine the heated discussions within BP crisis response headquarters.  There must have been fierce debate over how to exploit this stunning news.  An aggressive PR plan would have been to build the report into full-page ads in major US newspapers as well as the round-the-clock commercials BP is running on its response.

But that did not happen.  In fact, it looks like the sum total of BP’s hyping of that report is three Tweets on its official Twitter feed:

• NOAA Administrator states, there is no evidence of #oil on the Gulf seafloor 11:00 PM Aug 5th via HootSuite

• 50% of oil released is completely gone from the system. -Lubchenco #oilspill August 4, 2010 1:33:26 PM EDT via web

• Vast majority of the oil has evaporated, burned, skimmed, or dispersed. -Lubchenco 2:28 PM Aug 4th via web

Why is this important?  Because the NOAA report’s findings were so dramatic that they drew immediate scrutiny.  Now, almost three weeks later, scientists not involved with the report claim the exact opposite is true – that about 75-80% of the oil still exists, much of it in massive underwater plumes.  By not exploiting NOAA’s too-good-to-be-true report and staying out of the fray, BP let the feds take the ensuing heat.

This is just one example of how BP’s crisis communications plan is becoming effective.  Evidence?  A recent AP poll showed 33% of Americans approve of BP’s handling of the cleanup (up from 15% a few weeks ago).

Sometimes the best decisions are ones that keep you out of the news cycle and above the fray.

Research, Polling, Stakeholders, Strategy, Execution vs … A Simple Message

August 20th, 2010

The best publicists understand that full-fledged PR campaigns require significant effort and diligence – even stage-management, like a Hollywood blockbuster (more on that below).  When we hear excellent quotes, great taglines, catchy arguments, or anything else similarly persuasive and identifiable, we assume that the communications are spontaneous.  And that is the is the mark of stellar public relations – you believe the messaging is organic.

The truth is, 99% of the time, messaging that reinforces a client’s goals is the product of an intensive examination of how to deliver concise and effective statements that connect with key stakeholders.  In other words, messages that resonate are no accident, they are scientifically determined, tested, and delivered to ensure maximum impact and traction.

Still, sometimes the client’s thought leadership or public affairs campaign is so concentrated and distilled on a simple message that it’s hard for it not to generate fawning headlines – even if a thorough and thoughtful strategy is or isn’t behind it.  Case in point: yesterday’s release by the CDC of the latest smoking in movies statistics.  The report contains heaps of damning number and figures that still show a prevalence of smoking by film characters, and urges Hollywood to continue vigilant efforts to deglamorize the harmful practice on screen.

And what does such a packed-report, coupled with a simple press conference, get for the CDC?  The following headlines:

• “CDC to Hollywood: Stop with the Smoking, Already!

• “‘Step Forward’ in Limiting Smoking Scenes in Films

• “Butt out Smoking on Silver Screen

• “Smoking Still too Common in Movies

Not bad for a PR shop’s day’s work, if you ask us.  Puns in headlines are always a bit cheesy, but here they get the job done – bravo CDC for understanding that simplicity in messaging will always trump the million-page Power Point.