Zika, the Oil Spill and Help for Communicators

August 19, 2016

by Kim Stangle

One of the most important client success stories we’ve told in the last decade has been about our work for South Walton (the Tourist Development Council) on the heels of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.  With tourism as its main economic driver, the destination faced a crisis of epic proportions when news of the spill hit and visitors feared the pristine white-sand beaches they loved would be covered in tar balls.

Deepwater_Horizon_offshore_drilling_unit_on_fire_2010

Our team worked alongside the TDC’s communication staff to develop a crisis communication plan that would ensure visitors would continue booking trips as they’d done for so many years before.  The plan included scenario-based messaging; a blog that was updated daily to show real-time images of beach conditions; and, a variety of other communication tools.

Ultimately, the drop in bookings was a fraction of what initial research indicated was possible and they rebounded dramatically in the years to follow.

It’s hard not to immediately draw comparisons to the latest news coming out of South Florida—Miami Beach, specifically—where the latest Zika outbreaks are crippling an otherwise bustling tourism spot.

While an oil spill is hardly the same as a mosquito-transmitted virus, the communication challenges are similar.  Perception is a powerful motivator of fear and communicators must work to provide a constant flow of accurate information if they seek to separate fact from fiction.

For help with crisis communications and other public relations issues, check out our case studies and white papers.


Media Training 101: Do Your Homework

August 17, 2016

by Kim Stangle

When conducting our Message Matrix® training program with clients, we share a variety of practical tips to help navigate the sometimes-difficult landscape of media interviews.

One key tip is: always do your homework … anticipate all questions, especially the tough ones.

This advice would’ve been incredibly helpful to Seminole County Tax Collector Ray Valdes during an interview he granted recently with News 13’s Amanda McKenzie.  The elected official has been under fire for failing to disclose business dealings that many see as a conflict of interest.  And according to McKenzie’s news report, when probed about a tough question regarding those dealings Valdes stopped the interview, returned to his office and closed the door.

Valdes may get points for controlling the conversation, but abruptly ending an interview he granted does little to bolster his side of the story.

Moral of the story:  if you’re not prepared to answer even the toughest questions, don’t grant the interview.


Can’t Take a Joke?

August 15, 2016

by Roger Pynn

I got a big kick out of the dustup last week about John Oliver’s view of the state of the newspaper industry.  Remember, Oliver is a comedian, but people like Newspaper Association of America really let his humor get under their skin.  Said NAA President and CEO David Chavern, “newspapers need solutions, not petty insults and stating the obvious.”

I’m a recovering journalist.  I say that because far too many people claim to be practicing journalism when in fact they are practicing commentary.  I’ve had a hard time finding degrees offered in commentary, but I can tell you that when I studied journalism we were schooled to never, ever offer our own opinion.  That was for those folks who produce editorial pages where the newspaper was to express its “corporate opinion.”

“I would just ask Mr. Oliver to spend more time talking about what the future of news could be, and less time poking fun at publishers who are trying to get there,”  begged Chavern.

I would just ask Mr. Chavern to spend more time standing up for the practice of real journalism … and, less time letting a joke get the better of you.  Learn to laugh.


Never Stop Learning

August 15, 2016

by Roger Pynn

I’m just back from the 78th Annual Conference of the Florida Public Relations Association, which I’ve had the honor to lead as its president for the last year, and I’m reminded of the critical importance of continuing education for professionals.

From the tremendous insight into leadership communication by senior Ketchum executives Jamey Peters and Chris Thorton to  an incredibly candid opening keynote presentation by SeaWorld Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Jill Kermes to an inspiring closing session of pick-up basketball with Gainesville Police Department Public Information Officer Ben Tobias on the power of viral video, PR practitioners had dozens of opportunities to gain valuable takeaways to improve their professional value from these general sessions to breakout talks and workshops.

And we didn’t just listen to fellow public relations people.  Florida Trend Publisher Andy Corty recruited Duke Energy Florida President Alex Glenn for a discussion called “Listen to the C-Suite,” with this powerful Florida business team exploring what our employers and clients expect of us.  Glenn’s belief in the power of public relations was refreshing.

To me, it is about public relations.  To others it may be about accounting, law or engineering … but my takeaway from these past few days was that we must never stop learning.  If you consider yourself a professional, align with an organization that can fulfill the need we all have for knowledge.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the Florida Public Relations Association in my life since 1974.  It has shaped my career in more ways than I can count.  If you consider yourself a professional, align with an organization that can fulfill the need we all have for knowledge.  You’ll get a lot more than you pay for and if you take the time to become involved, you’ll get a lot more than you give.


Careful What You Ask For

March 21, 2016

by Kim Stangle

Social media has given way to a new age of marketing where engagement is far more important than just pushing your message out.   Engagement is surely a great way to interact with your stakeholders, but doing so shouldn’t compromise the integrity of your brand or message.

Twitter has given us numerous examples of engagement-gone-wrong including two campaigns that started innocently enough: JP Morgan’s #AskJPM and SeaWorld’s #AskSeaWorld.

But, don’t be fooled.  Twitter isn’t the only way your attempts at interacting can go awry.  Some organizations are even bold enough to put their taglines or brand names in the hands of users.  What could possibly go wrong?

You could end up like the British Navy whose newest research ship is just votes away from being named RRS Boaty McBoatface.  Thanks to their brilliant “Name our Ship” campaign, the cheeky moniker leads all other user submissions.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t engage with your users, just be careful what you ask for.


A New Era

March 21, 2016

by Roger Pynn

This probably won’t earn me any friends at Crain’s, but when this first edition of the much-awaited CRAIN’S ORLANDO arrived in my inbox I have to admit to scratching my head.  A lot.

The first four offerings in this “curated” news service are from either Florida Today, the Orlando Business Journal or the Orlando Sentinel.

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Perhaps someone ought to tell them that Florida Trend has been doing an excellent job of this kind of news aggregation with its Florida Trend DAILY PULSE for years now.

flrorida trend

Unless CRAIN’s elects to do some original reporting this could quickly become nothing more than clutter in your inbox.  Not what you expect from this respected publisher of such titles as Advertising Age, Automotive News, AUTOWEEK, InvestmentNews and many more.


Fool Me Once …

February 17, 2016

by Kim Stangle

Marketers use a number of tactics to increase the open rate on emails they send to customers—and, with good reason.  In 2015 alone, some 205 billion emails were sent per day.  With those numbers, it’s easy to understand why perfecting the subject line is as critical as the content of the email.

Most email platforms even offer tips and tricks to help along the way.  MailChimp gives step-by-step best practices; MyEmma has an interactive “split test showdown” to help users pick winning subject lines; and, companies like Mequoda offer great resources like this list to help perfect your copywriting skills.

With all of those resources, I’m left scratching my head about an email tactic that I’m quite certain is not a mistake.  I’ve opted in for emails from retailer West Elm and, generally speaking, they didn’t seem anymore offensive than any other.  But, then yesterday I received this:oops

At first, I was thinking, “Ooh, a discount code.”  But, then I remembered that email seemed vaguely familiar.  Sure enough, a quick search of my inbox yielded this:

oops2

And, you guessed it … no sign of that “old email.”

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Business is built by building trust, not by cheap marketing ploys.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.

 

 


Pearls of Wisdom for Moe’s

December 7, 2015

by Heather Keroes

“Welcome to Moe’s!” Just hearing that phrase makes my mouth water and my stomach grumble as it yearns for burritos, chips and queso.  I subscribe to Moe’s Southwest Grill’s text alerts, which keep me informed of important burrito deals.  On Black Friday, for example, I would fully expect to receive (and did) a text offering me amazing burrito savings to help fuel my shopping.  But today marks the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  This isn’t a day when I would expect to receive the following text alert:  “Pearl Harbor Day got you HUNGRY? Swing by Moe’s for Moe Monday.”  Uh … yeah.  Pearl Harbor Day has me FAMISHED.

I could write much more than this about holiday exploitation and misinterpretation, but for some reason I thought Pearl Harbor Day escaped that fate.  This isn’t a day to vie for savings on a big screen TV, let alone a burrito.  As I write this, it is lunchtime, and I am indeed hungry, but I’m not craving Moe’s.


When Media Attack

October 30, 2015

by Dan Ward

Are you, your bosses or your clients prepared for the same kind of “attack questioning” faced by Republican candidates in the latest debate? You should be.

You may not be running for President, but if you’re granting an interview you’re running for something. You’re running to sell a product, to protect your reputation, to change minds, to influence behavior. But most reporters aren’t trying to help you. Like the CNBC “moderators,” they may actually try to hurt you, because controversy brings ratings.

So how do you respond? You can’t counterattack as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio did effectively, because you’re NOT running for president and few will care that you fought the good fight.

Respond by being prepared. As we tell clients who participate in our Message Matrix® training program, preparation means ditching the Q&A in favor of the I&R.

At a time in which many reporters no longer care about Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, the Q&A is dead. How can you possibly develop Answers when you have no ability to predict the Questions?

Think I&R instead. Identify the Issues you’re prepared to discuss, and develop Responses based on those issues.

In an interview, you have no responsibility to a reporter, especially one who is attacking you, to dutifully answer questions. Instead, you have a responsibility to your companies, your customers and your communities to respond with a message that protects and enhances your brand.

Don’t engage in a debate with a reporter or attempt to answer, or even acknowledge, a negatively worded attack question. Connect every question to one of a small set of issues about your organization, and provide a response that speaks to that issue.

“Is your business plan torn from the pages of a comic book?”

  • Issue – Mission/Vision;
  • Response – “Our customers are loyal to our products because they understand and connect with our vision. We focus on three things …”

“Many shareholders say you’re rarely in the office. Shouldn’t you just resign?”

  • Issue – Performance;
  • Response – “Our shareholders demand performance, and by any measure we’re achieving great results. In the last quarter alone …”

Performance in an interview is all about preparation. If you’re attacked, will you be prepared?


Fahrvergnügen, Meet Iacocca

September 22, 2015

by Dan Ward

Volkswagen is rightfully facing criticism (and a plummeting stock price) after admitting to rigging potentially millions of cars to surpass pollution limits.

The company has admitted that software was installed that switches engines to cleaner mode during testing, but turns that software off again once testing is over. That results in more “driving enjoyment” – the English translation of the famous Fahrvergnügen tagline – but also a lot more pollution.

But the positive sign – at least for those of us who communicate for a living – is how Volkswagen is dealing with the news. Instead of defensive lawyer-speak, U.S. President and CEO Michael Horn used these words:  “Our company was dishonest … we have totally screwed up … We have to make things right.”

And this from the company’s chief executive, Martin Winterkorn: “I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers … To make it very clear: Manipulation at VW must never happen again.”

The VW response reminds me of a story we often share during our Message Matrix® training sessions regarding Lee Iacocca, chairman of Chrysler when that company was found to be removing miles from odometers, selling slightly used cars as brand new.

His comments at the time were surprising, because they were so straightforward.  He said the practice “went beyond dumb and reached all the way to stupid,” adding “I’m damned sorry it happened, and you can bet that it won’t ever happen again.” That straight talk resonated with customers and with media, and is credited with saving his company.

Whether such straight talk will save VW remains to be seen. The company must back its words with action. But they’ve certainly taken the right initial steps to eventually regain their customers’ trust.


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