treat disease, not symptom

There have been lots of P.R. disasters lately (United, Pepsi, Fyre, etc). While the lesson in corporate communication on how to offer a proper apology is important, there is a more important takeaway from these dust ups.

Don’t have the disaster.

Sure, that’s easier said than done. But looking at most of these meltdowns, you can trace it back to violating one of the primary tenets of good marketing: Treat the customer right. Empower your employees to do the right thing instead of blindly following procedures.

Simple steps. But steps that can’t be slapped on with a press release. They have to be baked in to corporate culture.

Corporate marketing apology

barbers don’t cut their own hair

A quick follow up thought to my post last week about a PR firm’s debacle

  • Barbers don’t cut their own hair.
  • The cobbler’s children have no shoes.
  • A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.
  • And marketers do a poor job of marketing themselves. In fact, they stink at it.

Your ad, PR, or marketing firm should develop a reciprocal agreement with another similar sized shop that is not a local competitor.

The immediate gain could be a mutual sounding board and critic of current client outreach programs. Each PR firm, ad agency, or marketing shop could even create self-promotional content for the other one. This content would be fresh and exciting even for employees since they wouldn’t have gotten tired of it when they created it. It’s like having someone else make a sandwich for you. It’s better.

But the real reason you should create this reciprocal agreement today is for your impending disaster.

A smart marketer would never suggest that a client handle their own crisis communication. But marketers are more than willing to dig deeper holes for themselves.

Set up an agreement and plan that lets the other agency take over your corporate communications when you hit the panic button. Maybe even hold a social media fire drill.

Your crisis partner will have an objective view because when the crisis hits you won’t be able to see the forest for the trees.

PR firms and bloggers are like matches and gasoline

Blogger outreach in PR is like working with gasoline. Work with it correctly and it makes the vehicle go. Do it incorrectly and it blows up with disastrous consequences.

I am amazed at the number of PR firms who have an astounding lack of understanding at not only the basics of public relations, but also the basics of civility and common sense.

Until yesterday, one of the best recent examples of this phenomenon was ConAgra’s PR firm tricking bloggers about Marie Callender food, but some email exchanges yesterday provide us with a classic textbook debacle.

Instead of a recap, I’ll just let you read the story of how a few employees at BrandLink Communications have nearly destroyed their business with a bad pitch to the Bloggess. (warning: profanity-laden)

Their first basic mistake was relevance. While the point of PR is to get mentioned in as many forms of media as possible, too many firms just blast their entire contact list with every pitch. Look at the placement (whether it’s a blogger or traditional print/broadcast outlet) and see if what you’re pitching is similar to the type of content and audience they have.

For some reason, I keep getting emails from a PR firm who wants me to write about MRI machines here on the Shotgun Marketing Blog. They have not researched. Shoddy research doesn’t count either. I get a few pitches a week wanting me to write about guns and/or ammunition.

The well-researched personalized pitch works. Take a look at the 2nd half of Mark Schaefer’s post back when I was pitching bloggers about Brand Zeitgeist.

Another tenet of sending out good pitches is basic proofreading. If you look at the quotes from BrandLink Comm’s original pitch, it’s rampant with spelling and grammar errors. There’s now an entire generation of young professionals who are now sending out professional emails with the laissez-faire style of online communication and texting. It might work with some bloggers, but you’re going to immediately be deleted by the traditional editor who has an AP Stylebook sitting next to the Bible.

While BrandLink Comm had a bad pitch to start with (as The Bloggess tried to tell them with the Wil Wheaton link), this issue was compounded by arrogance, hubris, and rudeness. In PR, you’re basically going with hat-in-hand and asking for help. Be respectful of their audience and their time.

And when you do mess up, say you’re sorry and mean it. BrandComm has sent the Bloggess an email apology and apologized on their Facebook page, but the offensive VP (Jose) continues to be glib and use non-apologies on his Twitter feed.

All PR firms who reach out to bloggers need to have a training with all their employees using this instance as the prime case study. (Need a trainer?)

And always remember, reply-all is the most dangerous thing on your computer.

Update: This is not the first time that Jose has ticked off a high-profile blogger.

Follow-up Post: PR firms, ad agencies, and other marketers should find a partner for disaster

learning as you go

I would venture to say there are very few people who would skydive, ride a bull, wrestle alligators, or climb one of the Seven Summits without experience or at least after watching a very good orientation video.

And yet companies are rolling up their pants legs and wading out into the shark-infested waters of social media without a clue. They’re letting the interns and other untrained personnel control the messaging to some of their most important contacts and setting up a social media disaster.

Social media is currently biting Nestle on the Nestle facebook page.

Protesters are taking to the Nestle page to voice opposition about their alleged use of palm oil from deforested areas in Indonesia. That’s trouble, but a prudent social media manager could handle it (like the way Southwest handled the Kevin Smith incident). Instead, the admin(s) of the Nestle page went on the offensive responding to fans in a derisive and aggressive tone. This is not breaking a social media rule. It’s destruction of basic PR 101. The company should never argue with someone in public (and for all practical purposes, it was the COMPANY not the admin making the comments.)

Overall, this is a great look at how companies should think about their online reputation management mechanics and the need to plan for an online crisis response in the same way you’d plan for a traditional crisis.

My favorite thing about the Nestle incident is that on Friday the admin(s) posted

“Social media: as you can see we’re learning as we go. Thanks for the comments.”

This is true for any brand. Despite what the social media snake-oil salesmen say, there is no one who actually has any real experience in social media.

What companies should have experience in is basic customer service, public relations, advertising, etc and apply those lessons learned in old media to the new model. And if you’re going to jump in the deep end of the pool, you’d better know how to swim and expect to get wet.

that’s just great

Attention Non-profits (and for-profits):
Maybe this is the reason you aren’t getting decent media coverage.

If you’re not putting in the effort to get a pertinent message to the proper media outlet, why should they put in the effort to publicize your cause?

This came from a local office of one of the major national non-profits…mediarelations

(click to make it bigger)

no such thing as bad press?

Marketing Tip — Always put your logo on the buoyant end of the plane.


btw– Supposedly this was the first pic of the event taken from an iPhone and immediately uploaded to Twitter using Twitpic. The MSM then interviewed the citizen journalist nearly a half hour after he broke the story.

Other reports say that Sean Connery was standing near the crash mumbling something about Charlemagne and armies of rocks and trees and the birds in the sky.

welcome to the jungle

It’s bad enough when you mess up your own publicity stunt and damage your own brand. It’s worse when you drag someone else into it.

While last week’s Dr Pepper fiasco hurt the beverage maker, Axl Rose is saying it also hurt Gn’R and is pursuing legal action.

A celebrity is a brand. Some of them have better brand management than many companies. (and some much worse) Yet, it seems to be the marketing idea du jour for companies to randomly pick a celebrity brand out of the phonebook and use it in their own marketing campaign without consultation or approval from the celeb. (See also – Taco Bell vs. rapper 50 Cent.) What it is — is lazy marketing. Instead of building traction with your own attributes, it’s easier to leech onto something else to create an artificial buzz.

Leaders of both Dr Pepper and Taco Bell (who is countersuing) have said in official statements in response to lawsuits from the celebs that they can’t understand why Axl and 50 can’t just take the events in the “fun” they were intended.

What if I started using Dr Pepper’s and Taco Bell’s brand assets to market my business? A chihuahua that appeared on stage with me at speaking engagements. A book entitled the “23 Flavors of Marketing”. I wonder if they think that would be “fun” or would their lawyers attack me with a cease and desist?

doesnt work at 10 2 or 4

So on the surface, it looks like a publicity win-win-win-etc when the Dr. Pepper folks good naturedly agree to pay up on an outrageous bet that they made with the public. That is until the public tries to collect and their website is inaccessible because of the slam in traffic (which they should have anticipated).

CONSPIRACY THEORY ALERT: Or maybe they purposely held back on shoring up the website so they wouldn’t have to payout all of their “23 flavas”

In either case, it turns a great publicity opportunity and chance to build the brand into an example of an online branding disaster. Forget the MotrinMoms. It”s time for the Dr. Pepper Pain.

UPDATE: (thanks to Doug – see comments) They’re trying to limit brand damage. Dr. Pepper has extended the offer until 6pm Monday

zero tolerance social media

For the last couple of months, I’ve been on the receiving end of Peter Shankman’s thrice daily HARO email blast.

I think it’s great — on many levels. I have functioned as a source for a few reporters doing marketing and/or business stories. But I really enjoy HARO more as a great example of how the web2.o (sorry) economy functions and how that new economy is sometimes a threat to the mainstream establishment. Like a typical web2.0 (sorry) service, HARO is free — both to reporters and sources. And that’s a problem to HARO’s old school competitor, PR Newswire. It’s a great case study of the conflict between the economies especially when Shankman and PR Newswire head David Weiner have discussions in public comments about their businesses.

But even with all that, what I enjoy most about Shankman and the HARO are his reprimands and banishments for the good of the list. You can imagine that publishing email addresses and phone numbers for reporters at major media outlets to a public list of over 24,000 sources would be like crack cocaine for PR flunkies who enjoy spamming and pitching irrelevant topics to those reporters. But if someone steps over that line, Shankman severely punishes the offenders. Take the lead of tonight’s HARO for example:

Hey listen – I hate to bring this up again, but it would see that WOW Public Relations, specifically Nan Murray and Chris Burres, continue to SPAM HARO reporters. Now, I know for a fact that I’ve kicked them off the list, but for whatever reason, these people don’t get it. Here’s the problem: They continue to spam on behalf of their client, [redacted] – I’ve talked to [redacted], and he’s told them to stop, yet WOW public relations continues to SPAM reporters. So, if you get an unsolicited email from them, know that they’re not welcome on HARO, ever. I’d never, ever work with them, nor would I ever recommend them. I personally have added @[redacted] to my killfile, and you all might want to consider doing the same. It’s sad – some people just continue to do the wrong thing, despite being told repeatedly why it’s wrong.
[Edited: Peter said he thought he was too harsh on the client in the next morning’s HARO and has asked me to omit the client’s name.]

I’ve noticed that these outings and banishments happen rarely. But there’s usually an uptick after a massive influx of new members. (Shankman got a plug from Seth Godin earlier this month — so now is a tumultuous time.)

Shankman warns offenders, but some don’t listen (see above) and face the consequences. It’s very much like the first week in a prison or boot camp, learn the rules or face the wrath.

Look on the web and you’ll see a lot of criticism of his tough stance. I think some of that has been generated by the PR establishment or people who have been on the receiving end of a public lashing. But Shankman’s zero tolerance policy is necessary. For HARO to work or even exist, he needs the trust and respect of the reporters. They have seen he means business.

The problem with the web being open for anyone is that the web is open for anyone. Anytime we see a major step forward with communication, the snake-oil folks show up with viruses, spam, and other noisy junk. I wonder if email spam would have gotten to its current critical mass if people could have punished those who abused the system.

While you hear alot from web2.o evangelists about the goodness of open source / cluetrain / kum-bah-ya / feelgood communication, it needs to be remembered that there will always be people who will take advantage of the system. And that needs to be accounted for. Shankman’s HARO is a good example of how the community can deal with it.

cyprus snail spam

I’ve been getting alot of pitches lately in the inbox. (You know, because I’m such an A-lister.) But while the spinmeisters sending the email are working hard to find marketing/business blogs, they’re not putting much effort into the actual pitches. Instead of the stale monotony of a data merge form email, it’s typically the stale monotony of a perky intern trying to garner my goodwill.

Most of the time, you can tell they’ve never visited the blog because they’ve gotten some basic obvious fact about me or the blog wrong — or because the product they’re pitching is not even related to the topics I normally cover. But, of course, most pr and ad agencies make money on efforts not results. Some agency or marketing firm has blown smoke up some client’s oriface by ensuring that they can get blog coverage of thier product, book, etc so they just spam every blogger hoping to strike one eventually. (look! we can work the social media web2.0 buzzword train!)

I’m used to it in the email inbox, but not my postal one. Imagine my surprise today when I open my spider-infested mailbox and I have a letter from Cyprus, the small eastern Mediterranean island country where they like to center-justify their address fields.

The letter inside is a pitch for some dvd training system for speakers and lost me after about the first paragraph. But I opened it and looked at it (which is an essential step in any direct marketing campaign).

I suggest all these PR agencies trying to get blog coverage start doing this. Instead of setting up a bunch of interns in a cubicle farm and spamming bloggers, why not send them all to an island nation (Malta, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago) and have them send us postal pitches?

It might work.

(and btw — I am always looking for something to write/blog about. If you have a relevant well thought out pitch and want to reach my millions billions of engaged readers who are all innovators and early adopters, send it along. And seriously, if you’re one of the readers who wants me to take on a topic, please email me. I’m starting to get blogger’s block.)