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Is Your Brand Ready for A Social Media Crisis Based On Today’s Politics

Social media drives narratives.  That cannot be said enough.  Social media can also create a crisis where none existed.  Many brands are finding this out firsthand in the current politically charged and polarized environment.

Today’s consumers expect brands to tell a story and share their values including their political values.  Many brands have for years avoided taking stands on political issues and politicians as they knew such a stand would antagonize some consumers and cost them sales.  Yet more and more brands are finding that they can’t sidestep political issues.  Consumers are taking to social media demanding to know where a brand stands on an issue or political personality.  We have seen this just recently with consumers taking to social media to demand of brands where do they stand on FOX News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly and stories of sexual harassment.  This social media outrage has led numerous advertisers to pull their advertising from his show.

Very often brands are caught unprepared for the social media outrage that creates a crisis for them.  They need to be proactive, especially in this socially media driven world where a tweet on Twitter can be more powerful than the best devised public relations campaign and lead to numerous negative media stories.

What should companies do?

  1. Identify potential issues that consumers care about and might demand to know where the brand stands on the issue.
  2. Identify potential activists, antagonists, supporters, and media that would be involved in such a media crisis.
  3. Practice stimulations of a potential social media crisis driven by the brand’s stand on a particular issue.
  4. Respond at once when the crisis erupts.
  5. Engage on social media. Remember brands are all about engaging consumers on social media about various positive news items.  But too often, they fail to do that when a crisis hits.  That is a mistake.

A crisis can happen at any time.  In today’s polarized world social media often both creates and defines a crisis.  To survive such a crisis, a brand must be ready.

 

Why Staying True To Your Brand Story Is Critical During A Crisis

The other day, I wrote a crisis communications strategy for the Trump White House.  It was the conventional crisis communications strategy that would normally apply for any Administration facing the issues that President Trump confronts.  Yet in another sense, he doesn’t need a conventional crisis communications strategy and if he followed one it would actually do more harm than good.

What you say?  Look at all the negative media coverage the Trump Administration is earning.  It moves from one crisis to another (his press conference attacking the media was just the latest example).  That is true in the conventional sense.  Yet what we are forgetting is that Donald Trump’s presidency, just as his campaign is anything but conventional.

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump was discounted.  His attack against John McCain inferring that McCain was not a hero was supposed to doom his campaign yet his poll numbers increased.  Trump’s running feud with Megyn Kelly was going to be the end of the campaign, yet it reverberated in Trump’s favor.  There was no way he could win the Republican nomination with all of his verbal stumbles yet he emerged as the Republican nominee.  Hillary Clinton was a sure winner against Trump, conventional wisdom held.  The debates were viewed as a disaster and of course there was the infamous Access Hollywood tape.  Yet rather than bow to traditional crisis management, Trump doubled down attacking his enemies and never backing down.  On Election Night, he scored the greatest political upset since Harry Truman in 1948.

Trump’s success can be attributed to one thing more than anything else – his brand.  The public has known the Trump brand for decades.  It is flamboyant, never backs down and bucks conventional wisdom.  This is what voters bought into during the 2016 election – the Trump brand.  Voters believed in the brand and that Trump was not a regular politician.

For Trump now to follow a traditional crisis management response would go against that brand story that his voters bought into.  Based upon polls, Trump’s base is staying with him.  In many ways, Trump is like Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty who apologized if his remarks offended anyone but never backed away from his remarks and the public rallied around him because it was consistent with his brand story.  For Trump to change is strategy and eschew to traditional crisis management steps would be to go against his brand story.

Brands watching Trump should realize that consumers buy into a brand’s identity during both good and bad times.  During a crisis, if a brand approaches a response not consistent with its identity it runs the risk of alienating its consumers and losing its unique identity.  Donald Trump understands that lesson and that is why we cannot expect to see traditional crisis management from him.

#WhiteHouse…In Search of a Strategic Crisis Communications Plan

Every presidential administration just like every business needs crisis communications at some point.  For the Trump Administration, the need is coming earlier than most (not even a month into the Administration).   The Administration has been beset by numerous mistakes (Michael Flynn, alternative facts, the CIA visit, the Australia phone call) that have overshadowed its successes.  So what should the Administration do in terms of crisis communications?

  1. Limit President Trump’s media exposure. One of the great powers of the presidency is the President himself.  But he has been everywhere all at once.  The Administration needs to limit his media exposure to one major event a day that coincides with the message of the day.
  2. Replace Sean Spicer as White House Press Secretary. Spicer is serving as both White House Communications Director and Press Secretary.  He has become a parody in his role as White House Press Secretary through the Saturday Night Live Melissa McCarthy portrayals and has lost some credibility with the media that he works with on a daily basis.  Retain him as White House Communications Director but bring in a respected person as Press Secretary to give the White House a fresh approach in its press dealings.
  3. Now that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has resigned, the Administration needs to replace him quickly with a well-respected individual that will command respect in the media, with the public, and policy makers.
  4. Stay on message. Too often the Administration has fallen off of its message and got caught in needless distractions.  It needs to avoids this.
  5. Refocus on its campaign pledge of tax reform, infrastructure and creating jobs.
  6. Limit the President’s Twitter use (perhaps impossible). While reaching voters it creates needless news stories for the Administration.
  7. Carefully vet all facts released. Mistaken facts or alleged false facts (Bowling Green Massacre) are doing untold damage to the Administration’s credibility.  The media is giving everything greater scrutiny so this means the Administration cannot make mistakes with facts.
  8. Have Mike Pence, Reince Preibus, and Cabinet members be the main talk show spokespersons.
  9. Avoid lashing out at critics be it judges or Saturday Night Live as that creates an unnecessary news story that the media latches on to with a fervor.
  10. Have the message of the day come through one central source, preferably the chief of staff’s office as was done in previous Administrations.

Righting course after a few difficult weeks won’t be hard for the Trump Administration.  But to do so means employing a strategic crisis communications plan.

The Difference Between Public Relations and Advertising

One of the things many people ask about public relations is what is the difference between public relations and advertising.  It is a common question that is asked time and time again.  Yet the two should not be confused.  Here are the differences between advertising and public relations:

  1. Advertising is paid placement. The company pays for the advertisement that is seen in the print publication, heard on the radio, or appears on television. The public knows that the advertisement is paid for by the company.  Public relations on the other hand is free and is earned by being included in a story or interview.  It provides an implied third party endorsement of a company’s product or service by the media.
  2. Message control. With advertising, the company pays for the message, controls what, where and when it will appear.  In public relations, there is not the control over the message.  The reporter determines what if anything they will report on.  If a company knows how to make its message timely and compelling, the chances are that the reporter will cover it.
  3. Consumer Perception. With paid advertising, the customer knows that the provided the message with the intention of trying to sell them something—be it a service or a product. When someone reads a third-party article written about a company’s service or product (or sees/hears coverage on television or radio), the message is perceived as non-biased and an endorsement by the media.
  4. An advertisement lasts as long as the company pays for it to run.  After that the advertisement disappears.  With public relations, the story lasts forever thanks to the internet leaving a viral footprint that is discovered time and again.  One client appeared in a newspaper article in 2006 discussing online shopping and that article still appears as a top search engine item for the client.  A television appearance can last forever thanks to YouTube, the television outlet’s archives, and also the transcript of the show.
  5. Point of contact. With advertising a sales representative is the main point contact when fulfilling an advertising campaign. With public relations, the point of contact are reporters, editors, and producers.
  6. An advertisement will never appear on the front page of a newspaper or be the lead on the nightly news.  In public relations, a news story can be on the front page and be the lead story on the nightly news giving a company extra weight in the court of public perception.

Can the difference between advertising and public relations be confusing?  Yes.  But the key to remember is that both are essential for a successful marketing program.

Crisis Communications In The Age Of Trump

Small and medium sized businesses while knowing they need a public relations strategy often do not include a crisis communications plan in that strategy.  Many of these businesses believe crisis communications plans are only for major corporations and they will never face a crisis that needs a detailed response.  In this highly polarized political climate and social media driven world nothing could be more mistaken.

Recently I was called upon to help a medium sized engineering firm that was caught in the firestorm and fallout from the feud between Donald Trump and Congressman John Lewis.  We all remember Congressman Lewis, a Civil rights icon saying he would not attend Donald Trump’s inauguration as he did not see Trump as a “legitimate president” and Trump’s Twitter response.  Partisans on both sides jumped into the fray.  One who did so was a county commissioner in Gwinnett County, Georgia who posted on his personal Facebook page a post claiming that Congressman Lewis was a “racist pig” among other things.  Of course nothing goes unnoticed on social media and soon the traditional media was involved.  Most of the media was focused on the commissioner and his fellow commissioners as he was an elected official.  He also is a contract employee with an engineering firm.  There was no major viral footprint linking him to the company.  One industrious blogger however found the connection and began broadcasting the fact to his followers and the media.  This company has extensive contracts with local municipalities and is actually minority owned.  It was totally unprepared and unaware of the firestorm that was to erupt.

The first sign of trouble was when the company began receiving phone calls from the public demanding to know how they could employ such a person and threatening demonstrations outside of its office.  Soon their social media sites were under attack by people posting comments attacking the company for ever having employed such a person.  This was soon followed by media phone calls.  Employees knew something was happening but not sure what was happening nor what the company was doing.  The company had no basic crisis communications plan to deal with any of this and lost a news cycle.

Addressing this crisis was a top priority and one that any sized company should learn from.  Among the items instituted were:

  1. Determining a company spokesperson.
  2. Developing a social media response for the negative posts.
  3. Informing employees what was going on and how the company was responding, as well as how they should handle any inquiries they might receive and who to refer it too.
  4. Developing a social media policy for company employees (remember what employees post on their personal pages reflect upon the company and can become the basis of a crisis).
  5. Developing a formal response to media inquiries that included condemning the post and hand delivering an apology to Congressman Lewis.
  6. Informing clients and vendors of what was going on and how the company was responding.
  7. Announcing that the company was conducting another sensitivity class for all employees.

As quickly as the firestorm had erupted it died down.  In fact the company began earning praise by addressing the issue and issuing an apology.  While the story continued to dominate headlines, the company was no longer mentioned or a part of the narrative.

So yes, small and medium sized businesses, when you develop your public relations strategy, you need to include a basic crisis communications plan as part of that strategy.  In this day and age with social media and polarization, the chances of a crisis hitting a company regardless of size increases daily.  If a company ignores that, they do it at their own peril.

Knowing The Difference Between Public Relations And Advertising

One of the things many people ask about public relations is what is the difference between public relations and advertising.  It is a common question that is asked time and time again.  Yet the two should not be confused.  Here are the differences between advertising and public relations:

  1. Advertising is paid placement. The company pays for the advertisement that is seen in the print publication, heard on the radio, or appears on television. The public knows that the advertisement is paid for by the company.  Public relations on the other hand is free and is earned by being included in a story or interview.  It provides an implied third party endorsement of a company’s product or service by the media.
  2. Message control. With advertising, the company pays for the message, controls what, where and when it will appear.  In public relations, there is not the control over the message.  The reporter determines what if anything they will report on.  If a company knows how to make its message timely and compelling, the chances are that the reporter will cover it.
  3. Consumer Perception. With paid advertising, the customer knows that the provided the message with the intention of trying to sell them something—be it a service or a product. When someone reads a third-party article written about a company’s service or product (or sees/hears coverage on television or radio), the message is perceived as non-biased and an endorsement by the media.
  4. An advertisement lasts as long as the company pays for it to run.  After that the advertisement disappears.  With public relations, the story lasts forever thanks to the internet leaving a viral footprint that is discovered time and again.  One client appeared in a newspaper article in 2006 discussing online shopping and that article still appears as a top search engine item for the client.  A television appearance can last forever thanks to YouTube, the television outlet’s archives, and also the transcript of the show.
  5. Point of contact. With advertising a sales representative is the main point contact when fulfilling an advertising campaign. With public relations, the point of contact are reporters, editors, and producers.
  6. An advertisement will never appear on the front page of a newspaper or be the lead on the nightly news.  In public relations, a news story can be on the front page and be the lead story on the nightly news giving a company extra weight in the court of public perception.

 

Can the difference between advertising and public relations be confusing?  Yes.  But the key to remember is that both are essential for a successful marketing program.

 

Celebrity Divorces – Where’s the PR Strategy?

Celebrity divorces are always high profile news stories.  And when the celebrities divorcing have a word that describes their pairing – Brangelina – and are Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, you can expect nonstop media coverage.  Celebrity divorces also use public relations to sway public opinion and force a settlement.

We saw the public relations component with Brangelina play out following the announcement that Angelina Jolie was seeking to divorce Brad Pitt.  There has been an endless stream of negative stories planted in the media regarding Pitt (he was having an affair with his co-star; he has anger issues; he verbally abused his children and Jolie; he is a party animal; he is a heavy drinker and drug user; and so forth).  While the coverage regarding Jolie has all been positive (she tried so hard; she wanted to give up the Hollywood life to concentrate on her humanitarian work, etc.,).  This public relations strategy has put Pitt on the defensive and is shaping public opinion over this divorce.  This is similar to the strategy Katie Holmes used against Tom Cruise during their divorce that led to a quick settlement.  A key lesson of this is the side that gets their narrative out first wins in the court of public opinion.

Brad Pitt is reeling from the negative stories. He did get some slight assistance from his co-star, Marion Cotillard who denied allegations that she was having an affair with Pitt.  Beyond that Pitt’s side was largely quiet.   Now two days after while more negative stories are appearing about him, we are only beginning to see a slight pushback from the Pitt camp with friends calling some of the allegations malicious and that Pitt wanted to stay in the marriage and loved Jolie.  They need to do more because this case will be determined in the court of public opinion in many ways and what the public believes will also affect his brand long-term.

So what should Pitt do?

  1. Stay quiet and let others argue his case.
  2. Have his lawyers and friends deny in the strongest terms possible the allegations of verbal abuse with his children.
  3. Have female co-stars from his various films come forward to deny the womanizer claims.
  4. Have friends come forward and on how he worked on the marriage and was a loving husband and father.
  5. Put the onus of the failure on the marriage and the current nastiness on Jolie.

Celebrity divorces are always high profile – in coverage and the damage that can be done to career and brand.  That is why in such cases, a public relations strategy is as critical as the legal strategy as we are seeing now in then end of Brangelina.

What Businesses Can Learn From This Year’s Political Conventions – Social Media Is King

The 2016 political conventions are upon us. Unlike political conventions of the past, the suspense is gone on who will be the nominee and no intense battles over party platforms are fought out at the conventions. The political convention in this day and age is in many ways an infomercial for the presidential nominee and their political party. Yet millions of Americans still tune into the convention. Yet the way they tune in to obtain coverage is one studied intensely by businesses so that they can copy the methods to reach the consumer.

Political communications leads businesses in new ways to reach consumers and position their brands. In 1920 and 1924, radio came of age covering the Republican and Democratic conventions. Businesses paid note of that and the increasing number of Americans who owned a radio. The result was that businesses began reaching out to Americans via radio – sponsored shows like Little Orphan Annie(the forerunner of product placements) and direct advertisements. In 1952, as Dwight Eisenhower and Robert A. Taft battled it out for control of the Republican Party, millions were glued to the convention proceedings on television that was just reaching its potential. Again businesses took note that a new way to reach consumers had emerged.

So what can businesses learn from this year’s political conventions?

Social media is king. The television networks have all cut back on their coverage of the conventions (a trend that has been going on for a while now with all of the suspense gone). Americans are paying attention to the conventions not with traditional sources of media (radio, television, or print) but via social media – Twitter and Facebook. This confirms something we have seen over the past several years – social media sets narratives. In fact a tweet or Facebook post often reaches more people than a television broadcast of the proceedings. Beyond that, people react to what they are seeing on social media. The takeaway from this convention season for businesses – social media is only growing stronger as are the ways to use it. A shrewd business leaders will copy what they are seeing at the conventions and use the methods.

Business always follows politics in terms of how to reach consumers. It has been this way since politics became the competitive and partisan profession it is today. Each election cycle offers business leaders lessons on new ways to reach the consumer and make their brand standout. The next two weeks will provide many examples of this – just stay tuned.

CEOs – Pay Attention To These Lessons From Donald Trump

Businessman and reality television star, Donald Trump appears to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016. This became all but official with the exit of Texas Senator Ted Cruz from the Republican presidential race following a devastating defeat in Indiana. Love Trump or hate him, he has shown on the stump some valuable public relations lessons that CEOs would be wise to copy. Trump demonstrated:

  1. Consumers will buy a brand that is consistent with its brand story.
  2. The power of social media.
  3. Stay on message no matter what.

When Trump entered the Republican race for president few took him seriously. There was much speculation that he was running as a publicity ploy and would not actually qualify. If he did run, experts stated he would need to refashion himself from the politically incorrect, Donald Trump that everyone knew from the tabloids and Celebrity Apprentice. Yet he did the complete opposite. He doubled down on his politically incorrect brand with his feud with FOX’s Megyn Kelly, calls for banning Muslims from entering the United States, and building a wall to keep illegal immigrants out. Corporate sponsors of Trump’s bailed in the wake of the controversy. Yet Republican voters loved it and catapulted him into the lead and eventually crowned him as the nominee. Contrast this with Hillary Clinton who has reinvented herself several times this campaign cycle and has yet to secure the Democratic nomination against Bernie Sanders and has created greater doubts among voters about what she believes. Being consistent to one’s brand is essential for success. Consumers buy into a brand’s story and Trump understood that. Business leaders need to remember that.

Everyone knows that social media has changed our world. Large numbers of consumers report getting their news from what they read on social media compared to traditional news. Trump understood that. He understood the power of utilizing Twitter to reach voters over the heads of traditional media. One tweet from Trump received more media coverage than television commercials combined of his top rivals. Beyond that, Trump utilized a way to connect with voters over the heads of the media and not through traditional advertising but rather via social media. This created a greater sense of loyalty and feeling of ownership with Trump by voters. Business leaders need to understand the power of social media that Trump demonstrated and harness it to reach their consumers and rely on it more than just traditional advertising.

Finally, Trump understood an age old communication lesson, keep your message to just several points and keep referring to it over and over again no matter what happens or what you are asked. Throughout the campaign, Trump has been consistent with his message to the exasperation of his rivals and the news media. In debates and interviews regardless of what was asked he referred to his main message points while his rivals were thrown off message consistently. Business leaders should remember stay on message regardless of what is asked and always make any question fall back to your main message points.

Donald Trump has reshaped politics in 2016 without a doubt. But he has also taught some valuable communication strategies that CEOs and business owners should study and utilize.

Keeping Your Brand Relevant With The Media

Today’s media world is 24/7, and reporters are hungry for breaking trends and stimulating story ideas. Pressure is high for brand communicators to create a steady stream of captivating stories.

A major challenge is that not all news is the breaking kind — and sometimes there’s a drought of fresh information altogether. What’s a brand to do?

Here are the tips to get the coverage you need:

  • Don’t depend on someone to hand you newsworthy information; find it. Identify trends that have press buzzing, and figure out how your brand can add an interesting perspective to the conversation.
  • Media coverage is cyclic. Flip through a lifestyle magazine in January and you’ll find some version of a “New Year’s Resolutions”, “Healthy Diet Tips” stories. April’s issue? “Springtime”. You can bank on the consistency of seasonal reporting and devise new hooks to sell existing content that will keep your brand relevant.
  • Give reporters a complete story idea with multiple points. Even consider referencing a competitor if it’ll strengthen your case (strategically, of course). Journalists don’t have time to take your news and find the missing pieces to make it a trend worth sharing. You have to do the work for them and reap the benefits.