Posts Tagged ‘PR strategy’

PR Blunder in the Making: Who Will “Face” the Yahoo-AOL Merger?

October 14th, 2010

Tech Leaders: Jobs, Gates... Yahoo Smiley?

The tech sector is abuzz today with rumors of a Yahoo-AOL merger.  As this blog is all about media aesthetic, we offer commentary on popular branding perceptions of big players in the news.

AOL’s brand has been scaled down to accumulating content and being more behind-the-scenes than in your face.  After all, just reminiscing about the gameshow voice exclaiming “you’ve got mail” is enough to make you smirk and recall the heyday of the 90s tech boom.  And the Yahoo brand, once the darling of offering free services, has taken serious lumps in the past few years.  Maybe a merger is what’s best to leverage what remaining brand equity the two companies have left, in a hail-mary that ups the ante against their formidable competition.

Still, even if Yahoo and AOL merge, how will they dominate the industry?  More importantly, who will lead this new brand behemoth forward?  Let’s face it – every major tech company is defined by a face.  Apple = Steve Jobs, Microsoft = Bill Gates, Dell = Michael Dell, Facebook = Mark Zuckerberg, and so forth.  These company heads are all celebrities in their own right, and thus give an added dimension to their company brands.

So what about AOL?  Current CEO Tim Armstrong is credited with maintaining morale at the beleaguered company, and … well, maintaining morale at the beleaguered company.  And Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz – well, let’s just say that she’s not exactly the most cool and level-headed public personality.

The lesson here is that pre-merger hype offers a good chance to enhance present brand value, but should always be coupled with a smart PR strategy.  In this case, the merger’s interested parties should start teasing media as to who the new leader might be, and promote that person’s presence aggressively.  If not, it’s a missed opportunity to give the post-merger entity a strong media push out the gates.

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…

An Open Letter to Diaspora, the Potential Facebook Killer

July 21st, 2010

Dear Diaspora,

Congratulations on your nascent social network’s progress so far!  Building a new media brand is extremely difficult, but with a catchy name, clean aesthetic, and riding the privacy bandwagon, you’re off to a good start.

Disclaimer: At the Blog Aesthetic, we are agnostic with regard to the marketplace.  In other words, we simply call out good PR strategy when we see it.  Nothing wrong with being (legally) ruthless in your business approach, and that includes your public relations.

With that said, here are PR considerations of value:

Know your competition.  The big ones are still Facebook and MySpace, but apparently size doesn’t correlate to smart PR.  For some reason MySpace doesn’t believe in leveraging golden PR opportunities when they present themselves.  That’s a shame, particularly given the news that Facebook’s customer satisfaction index score puts it in the bottom 5% of private sector companies.  Then again, MySpace’s reluctance to engage in counter-Facebook PR probably explains why MySpace performed worse than Facebook in the same customer satisfaction survey!  Diaspora, the chance to get a huge jump start over the competition rarely appears, so start planning your PR steps now.

You’re gonna get attacked.  The screenshots of Diaspora’s user interface look a lot like Facebook profile pages.  Some will give your site the benefit of the doubt and wait until its official launch before passing judgment.  Others won’t.  We anticipate Facebook won’t pull any punches and will blast your site for stealing their idea(s).  The irony of such charges, of course, is that the new Facebook tell-all film “The Social Network” portrays the origins of Facebook as rooted in theft.  Still, it’s worth preparing for crisis management on this, data leaks, critical reception, and anything and everything else that can — and will — go wrong when you launch.

Thought leadership for the social masses.  Privacy, privacy, privacy.  Facebook can never seem to get it right and strike the right balance for its users.  This dilemma offers Diaspora both a chance to distinguish its product from Facebook, and also to spearhead thought leadership on social network privacy issues.  If you guys can get this one right at the start, then you’re guaranteed to get a chunk of the half a billion Facebook users out there.

After Diaspora launches, we’ll revisit this blog post and see if our ideas and recommendations held true.  We love competition!



MySpace Misses Huge PR Opportunity During the Facebook Privacy Disaster

May 21st, 2010

In the wake of Facebook’s current privacy debacle, many online commentators have been urging MySpace to make a bid to attract disaffected Facebook users.  Don’t hold your breath.  The stigma of the MySpace brand – due to its convoluted, screeching user profiles – is such that to grab any market share, the site would need a major jaw-dropping marketing and  PR campaign.  Instead, the site posted a simple, single statement on the issue.

Talk about missed opportunity!  This blog has previously echoed the famous military strategy of Napoleon: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” But that excellent advice has nothing to with seizing the goldmine of business waiting in front of you – indeed, business that you once had!

The PR tactical considerations are almost endless, and it leaves one to wonder:

Why hasn’t MySpace … done a massive social media blitz to lampoon the privacy problems Facebook has had since its inception?

Why hasn’t MySpace … produced a video showing the ease of its privacy options compared to Facebook, and then push that video to go viral?

Why hasn’t MySpace … engaged tech reporters and key influencers in the privacy debate to educate them about the site’s simple and user-friendly privacy policy?

Why hasn’t MySpace … partnered with critics, academics and business leaders to establish thought leadership and lead a much-needed global discussion on evolving online privacy standards?

Why hasn’t MySpace … mined its existing database of dormant accountholder emails and sent them a nice, friendly note asking them to revisit a “new and improved” site?

Customers don’t just leave one business for another without understanding why the alternative is more attractive.  MySpace apparently is assuming that Facebook users automatically know about the latest version of its offerings.  Big error.

The Tea Party’s Fatal PR Blow?

May 5th, 2010

The Washington Post has a lead article today on the nascent Tea Party’s struggle with its “racist” image.  As the saying goes, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your facts – and for the Tea Party, the fact is that its political boundaries unfortunately are blurred with extremely racist and offensive elements.  Given that the wider PR narrative of Tea Party political and militant extremism is all but written in stone, separating bigotry from the movement’s desired image of fiscal discipline and individual/sovereign independence is a tall order.  As the Post article succinctly states, the loosely defined elements of the Tea Party have “no national communications strategy.”

In more practical terms, the movement has yet to score a major political victory.  Whether it’s railing against government bailouts, to standing against healthcare legislation, to alienating political candidates it once supported, the Tea Party still seeks that elusive big “win” to generate strong momentum on the political stage.

These setbacks haven’t stopped its members from identifying future opportunities to sway political and policy debates, but here’s the problem – the past political fights have essentially centered on financial reform and entitlements.  The legislation or laws in question were more focused on money than social issues – i.e., “we can’t afford bailouts… we can’t afford healthcare…” and so forth.

But the next big policy fights are ones rife with race and ethnicity.  Immigration reform is so racially charged that the state of Arizona has become a lightning rod of criticism and boycotts because of its perceived heavy-handed and racist laws.  Terrorism and racial-profiling are thrust back into the spotlight thanks to the failed Times Square bomb plot and no-fly list breakdown on Emirates Airlines.

If it can’t scrub its racist image, how can the Tea Party expect to be taken seriously if it attempts to join the debate on these two high-profile issues?  And if its members do talk, what risk does the movement run if the bigots within are the ones whose voices speak loudest?

In politics, shedding racist baggage is next to impossible.  Indeed, many states in the American south still continue to deal with the ugly and terrifying images of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation.  Unless the Tea Party leaders conduct a transparent, thoughtful, sincere soul-searching process that insists on zero tolerance of racist elements, the movement is doomed to novelty status.  Purge now, or forever hold your peace.

P.S. One PR tactic that guarantees failure for the Tea Party is claiming that so-called “plants” (i.e., opposition operatives) purposely show up and exhibit cartoonish racist behavior to make Tea Partiers look bad.  Appealing to conspiracy theories is a terrible PR strategy and only helps to cement the lunatic, reactionary image of the movement.

How to Control the Rules of the Court of Public Opinion, Step 1

May 1st, 2010

In crisis management and crisis PR, *the* most precious commodity is time.  Events happen so rapidly that you don’t have to time to determine if you have the upper hand.  One day your business is coasting along, but the next day you’re causing a mega-environmental disaster, accused of bribing regulators, facing allegations of financial crimes, or trying to figure out if an opponent is more bark than bite.

Staring down the barrel of a lawsuit?  What’s your litigation PR strategy?  Better be more than hoping for limited liability.  Your business may be at the mercy of civil procedure rules and a trier of fact, but don’t forget that the rules of the court of public opinion are totally different.

To leverage those circumstances in your favor, your business must take steps before you face litigation.  Your public relations counsel should conduct a thorough risk assessment and identify all weak spots of potential negative publicity.  Still, effective risk assessment is more than scanning your business operations – the analysis must connect with messaging, otherwise you’re wasting your money on ineffective consultants.

That’s why your business must be armed with a holding statement that can be aimed at each potential publicity hit or reporter inquiry.  Nothing appears worse (or more guilty) than inaction or “no comment.”   Ask yourself, who are your stakeholders – customers, regulators, business partners, activists, employees, maybe others?  If they suspect being cheated somehow by your business, what will you say when the microphones are in your face?

Specific holding statements can address initial concerns and buy you time to regroup, take a deep breath and implement the extended PR strategy.  Don’t assume that your folksy charm, steel spine or other character trait will woo rabid press into submission.  Speaking on the fly only reinforces the image of being unprofessional, and worse, indifferent to the crisis.

Appreciate the importance of prior planning, finalize your holding statement and be patient – by doing so you’ve already made a strong opening statement in the court of public opinion.

In PR for the Entrepreneur, Stick with What You Know Best

March 24th, 2010

For any entrepreneur, the rush from starting your new business empowers you in many good ways.  With each initial success, the new business starts to dream (and rightfully so!) about conquering their particular industry.

But, as with all things in life, never bite off more than you can chew – particularly with your small business marketing.  That’s where smart entrepreneur PR strategy plays a vital role, by making you focus on what your business does best.

With social media now as the most attractive and cheapest small business marketing platform available, the entrepreneur has more temptation to promote themselves as an expert on anything and everything, even if it’s a topic outside their industry.  In doing so, the entrepreneur risks muddying their message and ability to market their product or service in a targeted way.  They start to resemble this guy:

Instead, initial entrepreneur PR strategy shouldn’t expound on more than 2 or 3 core message topics at first.  Opened up a new coffee shop in your neighborhood?  Then blog about coffee, not local celebrity gossip (unless it’s about those celebs drinking your coffee).  Are you the new iPhone app maker in your city’s digital corridor?  Then tweet about emerging app trends for small businesses, and not trade battles between competing nations.

And, as a side benefit, by concentrating your messaging on a handful of discrete topics, you generate SEO on your particular business and help brand your new enterprise as a trend-setter.  Focus, focus, focus!