Posts Tagged ‘public relations’

UBS Stands Against Un-Buttoned Suits, Unruly Beard Stubble, Unusual Bad Smell

December 15th, 2010

Just as much as public relations counsel enhances external communications, the best PR firms also help clients with internal communications.  Large enterprises can forget the thought and care required in producing mundane materials such as employee handbooks, newsletters, and company-wide announcements.  Not only should sensitivities of the target audience of employees be kept in mind, but as the entire world has noticed, one should always assume that such communications will be leaked … and cause significant embarrassment.

Today’s offender is UBS, the global financial firm based in Switzerland.  The new UBS 43-page dress code was leaked to the press and paints the organization in an extremely unflattering light.  Among the UBS dress code requirements are:

Flesh-colored underwear;

• Compulsory scarves with authorized knots;

No eating onions (this is a dress-related item?!?);

Fingernail length.

Defensive and hostile communications like this dress code only serve to offend the workforce, doing more harm than good to the business bottom line.

Now of course, it’s really no one’s business how shiny UBS wants employee shoes to be, so from the PR standpoint there’s no need to defend the dress code.  Still, the flip-side to that point is that UBS shouldn’t go to pains to justify specific aspects of the dress code, such as stating that the manual is “in line with Swiss precision” – such quotes truly miss the Alpine forest for the trees.

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.

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.

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.

Demand Media’s Troubles Show Why Content Will Always Be King

August 16th, 2010

As journalism stalwarts continue to reel, Demand Media has been hailed as the possible heir to creating key media content.  With cheaply bought articles that populate numerous “how to” sites, the company certainly has tapped into a money stream and thrown the media industry a serious curveball… or has it?

Let’s look at the bumpy ride Demand Media is on currently – and what this means to the world of public relations.

First, Demand Media’s vaunted claim of 80 million visitors a month (wow!) has got some serious holes in it.  As the company is on the heels of an impending IPO, the perception – and reality – of its actual traffic is certainly questionable.  And if there’s an innocent explanation about this matter, the company’s silence on the issue certainly doesn’t help things.

Second, the common understanding is that Demand Media is successful because its business model is crushing the competition.  As with site traffic, the numbers on that are somewhat misleading.

Third, and most importantly, the question remains: is Demand Media’s content worth its weight?  Is the information the company generates that good in the first place?  Some of the content that hits sites like ehow (“How to eat a hot dog” – really?) is very suspect in value.  If Demand Media is effectively a race to the bottom, can we ever expect it to be a thriving media enterprise?

We believe the lesson here is that no matter the new media platform, site, social media tool, widget, whatever – smart content will always, always be king.

The Failed PR Strategy for Google’s Net Neutrality Plan

August 13th, 2010

If you don’t know what net neutrality is, then ask yourself, “why don’t I know about the single most important issue regarding the future of communication?”

The largest names in telecommunications are proposing to choose which companies can decide how fast (or slow) to transmit content.  Chief among them are Google and Verizoncalled out specifically by the New York Times on August 4 for holding secret talks for 10 months to overturn net neutrality.

There are strong arguments for and against net neutrality.  And, because the issue generates such passion, advocates of any position must explain their views clearly – especially if they are mega-corporate interests whose roles can be perceived negatively.

In this sense, Google has a lot to answer for.  Since the first three words of its corporate code of conduct actually read, “Don’t be evil,” the stealth talks on this vital issue have acute irony.  The code of conduct goes on to read:

… the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct.

Google did not comment for the original Times story.  But the next day, both Google and Verizon declared the Times story wrong (Google decided to tweet its denial).  After five full days of silence on its company blog (and a firestorm of debate online), Google/Verizon released a “Joint Policy Proposal for an Open Internet,” which makes it clear the Times story was completely accurate.  The blog post itself admits Verizon and Google were meeting for “nearly a year”!  Even worse, the proposal is an artfully worded plan, effectively, to defeat net neutrality – something for which Google had previously professed strong support.  So widely panned was its proposal, Google was compelled to dispel “myths” in a follow up blog post.

Just so you remember what is at stake, consider this line from the proposed legislative framework for Congress:

“Regulatory Authority: The FCC would have exclusive authority to oversee broadband Internet access service, but would not have any authority over Internet software applications, content or services.  Regulatory authorities would not be permitted to regulate broadband Internet access service.”

So, just to be clear: Google was not meeting with Verizon for a year (even though it was), and believes that the government has no regulatory authority over broadband service – despite heading to Capitol Hill four years ago to ask the federal government to favor net neutrality (something it now wants to kill).

For a titan like Google to have such a ham-fisted PR strategy in the wake of being implicated in these activities is shocking.  Google PR Strategy = grade F.

Hey JetBlue, What’s the ETA on Smart Social Media Strategy?

August 10th, 2010

Ah, JetBlue… Love your TVs and blue chips, but your social media strategy needs a serious overhaul.

As the new meme-to-be, the entire Steven Slater ordeal has had many twists and turns in its initial 24 hours, with only more anticipated to come.  So let’s examine the basics of the media narrative, as it currently stands: verbally abusive JetBlue passenger, disgruntled employee, terrible economy, people stickin’ it to the man, beer, jumping out of planes, and jail.

JetBlue, this is quite a news mess on your hands.  So… why is your social media strategy on the skids?  It’s quite telling that this is the most recent post on the JetBlue Facebook page:

Here’s a better social media strategy (one that some firms would gladly charge you tens of thousands of dollars for): ditch the typical lame Facebook content, and use social media to control the media narrative.

People are speaking about your company, so instead of talking about hot dogs in Chicago, address the Steven Slater issue head on and make it positive.  How about asking your 300,000+ FB fans what are their tips for unwinding and reducing stress during the hectic travel season?  Pick one tip to showcase each week, and award that person with a free round trip ticket.  Everyone loves contests!  Plus this re-engages the online community and helps it grow like never before.

The social media lesson here: The best PR agencies are vigilant – they always look for opportunities to grow and expand your brand, even when everyone thinks it’s a disaster.

PR Basics for E-Commerce Sites

August 3rd, 2010

From time to time, the Blog Aesthetic spotlights different industries and offers discussion and insight on relevant public relations trends and strategies.  In this posting, we examine the next phase of e-commerce, an industry that faces exciting possibilities as the U.S. economy continues its positive (if slow) rate of recovery.

To that end, what PR factors should e-commerce sites pay attention to?  Here are a few:

• Leaks, leaks, leaksData breach continues to be the most high-profile media narrative associated with e-commerce sites.  As much as news outlets may report on the success of an ecommerce platform, a significant data breach will always be a media lightning rod.  Has your site prepared a thorough crisis management plan that addresses all stakeholders?  If not, your new road to riches will surely hit a dead-end.

• Distinction.  Quick – in 30 seconds, explain the difference between Authorize.Net, PayPal, and Fiserv… Once you’ve hit the wall, you will probably see the problem.  All provide consumer payment processing for individual and business transactions, but what benefit does each offer that’s different than the other?  In other words, where’s the brand distinction?  Your e-commerce PR efforts must always work to show why your site or platform is the better alternative.

• Streamline customer interaction.  With social networking significantly reducing the cost of customer interaction, an e-commerce site should leverage different social media sites for particular avenues of customer engagement.  For example, a few tweets can offer quick bites of news updates, but a Facebook page may be better for carefully addressing consumer or merchant complaints.

• The next big thingE-commerce sites will, undoubtedly, significantly evolve as new technologies and online platforms emerge.  Change always catches people off-guard, so e-commerce sites must make sure stakeholders are fully engaged and informed before incorporating the “next big thing” into their business practices.  Smart PR can help an e-commerce site develop a thought leadership campaign on relevant industry issues, position the site favorably with business and consumers, and then capture market share as the standard business model evolves.

UAE Blackberry Ban Will Hurt Its Business and Travel PR and Promotional Efforts

August 1st, 2010

(Disclaimer: Praecere principals have represented The Executive Office of Dubai in prior positions.)

The media universe is abuzz today with the UAE’s intention to block BlackBerry digital communications in October.  The emirates’ telecommunications authority says that BlackBerry has the potential to allow “users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns” — though the “legal accountability” standard is likely to be UAE’s insistence on allowing government surveillance of all communications.

This move stands to be a public relations disaster for the UAE, particularly in light of the emirates’ continued push to be a business-friendly oasis in an otherwise politically and economically volatile region.  The ban will also create negative perceptions for travelers and tourists, which Dubai has worked very hard to attract over the years.  Indeed, how can travel and tourism writers even produce content for their stories if their phones are blacklisted?

Should the ban take place as scheduled, the UAE is in a very weak position to promote itself as a growing hub of transparency and capital markets in the Middle East, something that part of the world desperately needs.

At the same time, BlackBerry has been handed a golden-PR opportunity to develop a thought leadership campaign on privacy and global regulatory issues, one where other technology companies have repeatedly failed to take the lead.  With its market share dwindling, BlackBerry can’t afford to pass on openings like this to press its brand as the gold standard in free communication.