Rod discusses thought leadership in Legal Intelligencer

You may know your stuff, but that doesn’t mean you will be recognized as an authority on the topic. How can lawyers become thought leaders and better media sources? Rod answers that question for Meg Charendoff in a recent Legal Intelligencer article.

Advertisements

Ebola Strikes New York

Photo courtesy of the CDC.

Photo courtesy of the CDC.

It’s official. Ebola has scared the hell out of everyone. With Friday’s news story of a doctor in New York City being diagnosed and today’s “testing” of a 5-year-old boy for Ebola as well in the Big Apple, hysteria is sure to hit new heights.

However, as public relations professionals, our job is to offer wise council in times of crisis. We must anticipate how this latest news impacts our partners and determine how best to help them inform and better educate their audiences. A myriad of businesses can find themselves in the center of a media storm as Friday’s NYC media coverage demonstrated.

So the best advice for businesses is to start with facts.

For those businesses being asked about Ebola risks and protocols – and the public’s perception of your business’ Ebola risk – there are five steps to take quickly:

  1. Share the latest information from a recognized authority source (e.g., the CDC, the World Health Organization, your local or state department of health, etc.). Unless you are a medical professional well versed in infectious diseases, regardless of your business, you have no business advising on health issues. Leave that to the professionals and simply point people in the right direction.
  2. Examine your realistic exposure. NPR recently reported most American’s have a 1 in 13.3 million shot at contracting Ebola. In fact, NPR suggests studies show you’re more likely to die from a lightning strike or a bee sting than you are of catching Ebola. While many businesses are not likely to be at risk, the Manhattan case from Friday demonstrated how Uber, a Brooklyn bowling alley and NYC Metropolitan Transportation Authority needed to address Ebola concerns on a moment’s notice. Therefore it’s helpful to have thought through your messaging and delivery method in advance.
  3. Reassure your audiences you are following coverage and authoritative information of U.S. Ebola cases so as not to be surprised by developments that could impact your business operations or vendor relationships.
  4. Consult with your public relations professional to ensure any crisis communications plan your organization has in place is updated and that your team is prepared to respond quickly.
  5. Update your audiences as appropriate.

A sixth but less urgent step is to revisit your crisis communications plans at the conclusion of this latest pubic health scare to fine tune your policies and procedures so you are better prepared next time. And trust me, there will be a next time.

Ignorance Is Not a Brand Attribute

Media outlets everywhere have covered Groupon's Presidents' Day marketing stunt. The question is if this hurts or helps the brand in the long term.

Many media outlets, like the Chicago Tribune, have covered Groupon’s President’s Day marketing stunt. The question is if this stunt hurts or helps the brand in the long term.

As marketing tools, sometimes stunts work. They get the media’s attention. They take your brand “viral.” They get people talking about you. They create “buzz.”

When activists delivered a 13-foot tall gluten-free cake to Capital Hill in May 2011 to advocate that the Food and Drug Administration enforce gluten-free labeling standards, the stunt worked. There was plenty of media coverage. It supported the mission to which the activists were committed. It alerted consumers to issues surrounding the food they eat.

However, Groupon’s latest stunt – calling Alexander Hamilton “undeniably one of our greatest presidents” to promote a Presidents’ Day special – will not serve the brand well.

Sure, Groupon is quirky. Some might say it’s quirky to the point of being ridiculous. I’ll also grant you the Groupon stunt is getting buzz. There’s plenty of media coverage (heck, it prompted me to write this spiffy blog post).

But this stunt also gives the impression Groupon doesn’t know the facts (e.g., Hamilton was U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, not President). In trying to look too cool for school, Groupon instead comes across as out of touch with details – something that might make consumers wary. Thoughtful consumers might at first be amused. But on reflection, will they trust leaving their credit card information with a company that portrays ignorance as an attribute?

Hamilton’s briefly mistaken moment in U.S. presidential history won’t sink Groupon – assuming people are still using it. In fact, in the short run, it will have everyone talking about Groupon. That is what stunts do; they create buzz.

It’s the long run that is a problem. How does Hamilton fit the brand? More importantly, how does portraying a fundamental misunderstanding of history convince consumers to spend their Hamiltons, and Washingtons and Lincolns with Groupon?

Any good public relations professional will tell you buzz doesn’t always last and stunts like this don’t help the long term reputation of Groupon with consumers.

Mr. Hamilton would not be amused or impressed by Groupon’s stunt. Those using his likeness shouldn’t be either.

 

 

Best of Show: Standout Products of Natural Products Expo East 2013

ExpoEast2013Panarama

If you haven’t been to either Natural Products Expo East or West yet, it’s a must attend for good-for-you-foodies as well as those looking for products that take an environmentally friendly approach to consumerism.

With thousands of vendors and products to see and only four days to try to see them all, here are just a few standouts from the food category I came across in Baltimore while there on behalf of Kimball Communications:

B’More Organic When I heard “organic skyr smoothie” my skepticism kicked into high gear. Then I was told it was ideal for those, like my brother, who are lactose intolerant. Sure, I thought. Then I tried their Mango Banana Skyr Smoothie. Stunningly good, loaded with protein and good for you. I took a bottle for the road-trip home.

Conti Gourmet Coffee I can’t say enough good things. Roberto “The Coffee Man” serves a great cup of coffee, keeping me fueled for the entire show. I’m ruined for Starbucks from here on out.

Epic This was the biggest surprise for me at Expo East. Epic’s 100 percent grass-fed, animal-based protein bar caused me some hesitation. However, at the urging of others, I tried the Bison bar and was remarkably surprised at how good it tasted. I’ll be ordering a box this week.

Gelato Fiasco This group from Maine was a lot of fun. We talked a little about social media, and a lot about their awesome gelato. While they are primarily in New England right now, I fully expect to see them on a store shelf here in Pennsylvania area soon. They are definitely worth stopping for the next time you are in Massachusetts or Vermont.

Late July Organic Snacks Celebrating 10 years in the organic, non-Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) snack space, this established player still has the power to surprise with its new a tangy and impressive new Sub-Lime Multigrain Snack Chip. I’ll be looking for this one in my local grocery store.

NoTatoes This super-young start-up made quite a big buzz at Expo East with delicious Cassava Tortilla Chips. Keep an eye on this company. I have no doubt you’ll be seeing them in a lot more stores soon.

Sibu Sura A micro-batch chocolate producer out of Maryland (using 100 percent organic and fair trade cacao beans from Peru), Sibu Sura not only offers some of the best chocolate from Expo East (I tried just about all of the chocolate available), but their mission of social good and environmental friendly packaging make them a distinctive standout in any crowd, including at Expo East.

Suzanne’s Kitchen Amazing pepper jelly. I’m a connoisseur of sorts where pepper jelly is concerned. I once drove to Virginia because I heard a company there did a good job with pepper jelly and I wanted to verify it.  By far, Suzanne’s is the best I’ve ever tried. I picked up a jar of Pepper Jelly Heaven from my local Whole Foods on Sunday night to snack on while watching the finale of Breaking Bad.

Wild Poppy Juice Company I gave up soda and fruit drinks almost 20 years ago, but this organic craft fruit drink – which offers just a hint of soda-esque texture – made me think I was missing something amazing. The Organic Peppermint Lemonade was a surprising discovery, and one worthy of singling out as a Best of Show from Expo East.

There are so many others worthy of a mention, but only so much you’ll want to read on your tablet or smartphone. Be sure to check out our video round-up (posting shortly) of other impressive stand-outs from Expo East.

Three Crisis Communications Mistakes Companies Make

morner / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

In the shadow of the Boston Marathon tragedy, it’s painfully apparent – if it wasn’t before – that crisis scenarios are part of our collective new normal. From threats of terrorism and senseless acts of violence, to economic chaos and world events, crisis events can easy overtake the best-laid plans of any business.

At these times, there is a balance to be struck between business operations and consideration of outside events. Customers don’t want to be marketed to and reporters don’t want your new product press release in times of crisis. In addition, your own employees – even many miles removed from events – might struggle to cope with news from towns like Boston, Aurora, Colo., Sandy Hook, Conn., West, Texas, and others.

What do you say or do as a business owner or manager? Your response in such times must be genuine, sensitive to events and true to the culture of your organization. There is no one-size-fits-all communication solution.

However there are three things you should not do in a crisis. Don’t:

  1. Continue Your Social Media Strategy as Planned. The moment you start receiving breaking news alerts via smartphone apps, email or after watching the news, you need to assess the impact of your planned social messaging. Think about how your messages might be received against the backdrop of what is happening in the news. In most situations, you should pull your planned content immediately and take a wait-and-see approach for at least the first 30 minutes of the news event. This means deleting or rescheduling posts in HootSuite, TweetDeck and other social dashboards.
  2. Assume It’s Not a Big Deal for Your Brand. Gather your public relations and marketing teams to evaluate next steps. Create a plan for what your external messaging (including social media) needs to look like in the first hours and, in some cases, the next several days after a national or global event. Poor planning can lead to significant customer backlashes and damage your brand. You need only look at American Apparel, GAP and others whose early social media efforts during Hurricane Sandy not only failed, but angered customers by appearing insensitive to those in Sandy’s path.
  3. Ignore Your Crisis Communications Plan. If you have a Crisis Communications Plan, use it. This valuable tool will detail a methodical strategy and tactics for handling relevant crisis situations. Don’t try to wing it in the middle of a crisis. You’re more likely to miss something, and the risks can be enormous. If your plan is out of date or, worse, if it doesn’t exist, set a goal for updating or creating one and use the current scenario as a case study (for better or worse) to help guide your Crisis Communications Plan development later.

While you cannot plan for every eventuality, a good Crisis Communications Plan will best ensure your brand is protected while also being sensitive to events outside of your control.

Photo credit: morner / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Gary on Insurance PR in Best’s Review

There’s a familiar face next to the “Top 5” insurance marketing column in April’s Best Review.

Gary shared his top-line insurance communications rules for the social media age, including best newsroom practices and the importance of a social media strategy.  Download the PDF of the column to read more — and let us know what you think.

Instagram, Community and the Monetization of People

With the recent uproar over Instagram’s proposed terms of service changes, I think it’s time to talk about what social media is and isn’t. Perhaps it’s also time to talk about changing social media’s status from golden calf to useful tool.

As a lover of Instagram, I was unhappy with the proposed changes (at least how they were first written). However, this is not because I expected the service to always remain free and unadulterated by advertising. I enjoy nothing about advertising. Still, I understand social media services are businesses, and as such, are in the business of making money. Instead, I was upset that “users” (the widgets formerly known as “customers” or even “humans”) were being treated as the product. In fact, the entire “Instagram community” becomes a product to be sold. Our digital presences are becoming little more than chattel.

Arguably, this is a paradigm many social media services function from; that is, the customer as both product and consumer. I believe this is a large problem with how social media services are monetized and how customers react to that monetization.

Social networks and their customers need to stop conceptualizing social media services as communities. Facebook is not a community, and neither are Twitter and Instagram. Rather, the communities are the groups of people that use these services to gather, share or discuss.

left-hand / Foter / CC BY-ND

Think of a small-town pub. In the evening, people gather there to talk to one another, sing karaoke and drink. Devoid of people, the pub is just a building. Full of neighbors, it is a community (or a part of it). Amazingly, people pay to be there, buying drinks and food and tipping their servers.

The web is no different. Facebook doesn’t get to be a community just because it calls itself one. It is actually many communities, comprised of real people of infinite complexity who exist in relationships that shift and change.

I think this is why some social media advertising schemes might rub people the wrong way. If the aforementioned pub used fine print to retain the rights to photos you snapped while within their walls, you might be a bit uncomfortable. If they copied the photos and then used them in ads that would pop up in the middle of the table while you were chatting with your friends, you’d probably stop going there. However, you gladly comply with the expectation that you spend money while you’re socializing. In fact, you may even put quarters in the pool table while you’re there.

This is where social media services have it wrong. I will pay for the privilege of being there, and I’ll bet many other people will, too. We will spend a little more to get a little more (like a pool game). We, the customers, just don’t want you to make money off of us in ways that feel icky, like using our photos to create “customized ads.”

This “ick factor” is related to those early, misguided attempts by some brands to enter the social media sphere. This is something with which all public relations pros are quite familiar. Uninitiated brands treat Twitter and Facebook like free advertising space instead of a town square. People don’t want to encounter ads next to pictures of cousin Sally’s new puppy.

As PR pros, we are quite comfortable illuminating for our client the distinction between an acceptable and unacceptable social media post. This should also be true when it comes to discussions of social media monetization. It is not enough to say “it’s a business” and call detractors naive. Success is not predicated on disrespecting your customers. In fact, many argue success has more to do with understanding your audience.

Some social media services and users get it. For example, Twitter successfully employs advertising, with appropriate and unobtrusive sponsored tweets. I find Google search ads acceptable for the same reasons, and I don’t think they’re exactly struggling for cash.

I think we all need to accept ads as a part of our social networking experience. However, there are other models that work for services where ads can be a distraction. Flickr, which has somehow come through this Instagram debacle as a bit of an underdog champion, seems to have understood this for a while. They charge a reasonable fee for enhanced accounts that give professionals more tools and services. New social network App.net also gets it. They are ad-free and instead charge a monthly membership fee.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize that fee or subscription-based social media would require a shift in thinking for most consumers. But I think part of the reason we don’t want to pay for social media services is because we think of them as the communities themselves, not a forum for communities. From that perspective, charging for the privilege of using the service seems cynical.

However, we must remember neither Facebook nor Instagram nor Twitter owns our communities. From that perspective, paying for the service seems to be the most direct, least cynical-seeming approach to monetizing social media. Monetize the service, not the people. Social networks aren’t communities; communities are made of people. Social networks are tools, and people have been paying for great tools since the beginning of recorded history. Social media services should be the products bought and sold, not the people who use them.

What does community on social media mean to you? What would you be willing to pay to use Instagram or Facebook, or do you prefer ads? Tell me in the comments.

Photo credit: left-hand / Foter / CC BY-ND