PR Does Not Go With Pomposity

If your client gives you an astronomical budget for their PR campaign, does it make you happy?

It shouldn’t.

With increasing public scrutiny on big businesses and organizations, financial prudence and accountability is often the most important factor in keeping corporate reputation afloat. So when your client bestows a huge PR budget on the firm, it is not a blessing. Instead, such pecuniary openhandedness can augur a potential crisis that can derail the entire PR effort.

A lack of restraint on corporate PR spending can lead to a public relations fallout that may well spill over to your firm. Like the proverbial partner-in-crime, a PR budget that is perceived to be exorbitant by the publics conveys the message that the client’s firm lacks prudence and proper judgment – a surefire dealbreaker in this day and age for potential clients.

Hence, it is wise to tackle PR campaigns rather frugally in order to safeguard the reputation of both client and firm. In addition, firms should continue to put due emphasis on helping clients save money, not just spend it.


Scratching the PR Scab

Leave old wounds alone.

This adage applies as much to corporate crisis management as it does to interpersonal relationships.

When a company can’t shake off the last big disaster (example: if the CEO keeps mentioning ‘the incident’ at meetings), the effect could be insidious.

Even if it is with good intentions in mind.

I believe a company cannot be run well with some part of its drive based on fear. That aside, getting too hung up on old wounds also means that the organization will probably box itself in with regard to its environmental scanning and issues tracking processes of crisis communication.

The result? Failure to anticipate and avert crises of a different nature than the last one.

Keep your key messages human

Newspapers report projected targets of gold medals at sports events.

Better newspapers report the athletes to watch.

Which one do PR practitioners want to appeal to?

By focusing key messages on human factors, brands can leverage on the following 4 outcomes:

1.Ease of building brand relationships
One sure-fire way to make your brand more endearing and facilitate positive engagement with consumers is to have key messages that relate to them and which they can relate back to. The Johnson and Johnson (J&J) Credo is one such key brand message that clearly state the people-oriented nature of their business. While communicating such human-centered messages, constituents will be more ready to respond to any message put forward by the brand, for example advertising messages.

2. Greater tolerance of brand shortcomings
Human beings are more compassionate toward their fellow rational beings. During a crisis, publics respond more favourably when the key message of a brand is focused on the stakeholders that contribute to it. Emotional attachment can soften the impact of a factual shortcoming, preventing loss of faith and confidence in a brand among consumers and investors. The goodwill fostered between J&J and their customers helped the brand bounce back strongly the Tylenol crisis. Likewise, a football team dedicated to people development, like Arsenal Football Club for example, can divert fans from getting hung up on results and hence foster an internal culture of goodwill and patience that brands can learn from. Success can then be spurred from this internal goodwill – Google and Starbucks show us that.

3. Increase brand equity
By keeping key messages human, brands can leverage not only on brand equity of the brand itself, but on the equity of the many personal brands that can help create a whole much bigger (and friendlier) than its parts. Human interest has long been an integral part of the journalistic news value; much like how a story with a moving, human angle can attract readers and give substance to a news publication, a brand with human-centered key messages is a brand that can successfully tap upon the intangible assets of its individual constituents.

4. Differentiation of brand from competitors
Human key messages are a good way to distinguish a brand from its competitors. What makes the Barclays English Premier League (EPL) so popular over other accomplished football leagues in Europe? It is the emphasis on the players that make up the league. Official television programmes like the weekly EPL highlights do more than just show the game, but also invites viewers around the world to a sneak peek into the lives of footballers where other league programmes do not. Football fans are fans of the EPL by virtue of longtime identification of the personality of the teams, managers and players created and sustained by the media, so brands should not neglect the human aspects of all brand touch-points.

These outcomes can protect a brand with human key messages to a great extent from the impact of market forces, while serving to strengthen existing brand attributes. Focusing on making key brand messages human can go a long way to help ensure a brand’s survivability in the long run.

Stella Artois Makes Going Green Retro Hip

Le Hedge Fund (the video) pretty much sums up what I like so much about Stella Artois‘s new campaign – Recyclage De Luxe. It’s nifty and endearing. Most of all, it is a video made with a specific audience in mind, and succeeds in doing so.

How? With Le Hedge Fund and the newly-minted series of videos, Stella Artois does more than just make a corporate responsibility (CR) commitment. Here, The Belgian beer has come up with an ingenious way to communicate their actions in a way that not only produce understanding, but invoke admiration and identification by showing that CR and style can be impeccably compatible.

It may be difficult for any brand to pull off a series of charming and self-deprecating videos, but this is exactly what Stella Artois needed. For years, Stella Artois was marketed as as ‘reassuringly expensive’. This slightly high-brow approach had probably restricted the brand’s audience to a band of semi-connoisseurs around the world.

In creating Recyclage De Luxe, Stella Artois keeps its positioning intact while also appealing (with its irreverant humour) to jolly, witty beer drinkers who are big on merry occasions with their pals, be it over dinner or at a party. Additionally, most of them are likely to be heartened by the good deeds that Stella Artois is devoting itself to. The feel-good factor of these causes certainly works in accentuating the fuzzy warm feeling at gatherings.

Blending a CR message with subtle, irreverent and nostalgic humour, Stella Artois manages to convey much more than just Eco-friendly intentions. The potentially viral nature of the Recyclage De Luxe videos will tell many eager viewers about the brand’s roots and most importantly, impart Stella Artois with a charming, witty and smart personality that many will want to associate themselves with.

My plan to get Tiger out of the Woods

Biceps aren't only thing popping up for Tiger Woods at the moment

Golfer Tiger Woods clearly needs some rescuing before his career goes out-of-bounds for a triple bogey. As we wait for him to find his ball in the rough and get on with the game we know that the longer he takes, the worse the outcome for him and his reputation. This doesn’t take much figuring out at all.

I am sure Woods knows this too. Looking at his Twitter account, I surmise he is a rather taciturn man. Perhaps he is used to the silence of the golf course as he takes his swings. But now it is the media that is ready to take aim, and when the hordes of hungry reporters swing at him, the whole world will hear Tiger whimper like an abused cat. I love cats dearly and share great emotional attachment with them, but I don’t share quite the same sentiments for Tiger Woods. Right now, he just looks like he’s begging to be kicked. That guy needs a wake-up call.

Nonetheless, this is an interesting case for all PR practitioners and aspiring ones like me to look at. I have my own plan to pull the Tiger out of the hole he has dug for himself. Vital point to note: the more time that ticks away, the harder it will be for him to come straight out into the open without looking like a deer in the headlights – awkward and dumbstruck.

My communication strategy will focus on 3 things:

  1. Give the media a good reason to reduce the intensity of bad publicity against Woods
  2. Buy time for the taciturn Woods to speak up without fueling too much speculation in doing so
  3. Give the media a reliable source to divert them away from the rampant and random speculation

So that was the strategy, now here’s the action plan summarised in three steps:

Step 1: Find a close, high-profile family friend to open up to

Ideally, this friend knows both Mr. and Mrs. Woods well. He should ideally be a fellow pro golfer, and has a good relationship with the media and can talk to the media well, and can be seen as a approachable, good friend. Can anyone tell me who could assume this role?

Step 2: Friend talks to the media

Armed with the truth from the Woods household, he should get in touch with a reliable member of the press. Then the friend will emphasise to the reporter that it has been a difficult time for the Woods family, thank the media for their support (even though there wasn’t any), and basically try to buy time while placating the hordes of hungry journalists. Finally, the friend should promise that Tiger will come clean at a certain date. The transcript should look like this:

I am a close friend of Tiger and Elin for X years. After the incident I got to talk to both of them, a cup of nice warm coffee by the fireplace, and after meeting them I can say that I am relieved that not only are things stable, but they are moving forward and as someone who cares about Tiger and Elin, I feel happy for them and that I was there for them during this period.

Tiger would like to thank the people in the media and everyone that has shown concern for him and his family in the past few days. I know Tiger as a quiet, gentle and good-natured man who needs time to collect his thoughts before speaking to the public about a matter that is close to his heart. He has told me he wants to be outright about it and he will speak to the media soon – at a date to be determined by him and Elin. Meanwhile, the Woods family and his friends continue to seek your patience, understanding and share in your interests that Tiger’s story with regard to the incident be told in due time.

Step 3: Back to the drawing board

Now Tiger Woods has about a week, maximum two weeks to plan how he should come clean. The point is, by leveraging on a human face to communicate and connect with the media, Wood’s can buy valuable time to collect his thoughts and craft a message that necessarily builds on the good work that the friend has done. Sometimes, indirect communication is the best way to communicate, and I see this particular scenario as fitting to use such a tactic to fulfill the strategy that I have laid out.

Till Woods speaks up himself, the friend would have to continue to take some heat as the conduit between the Woods family and the media. A tricky proposition yes, but worth a try in my book.

What should Twitter ask?

I’ve always regarded “What are you doing?” as mere placeholder text. Look at it this way: if you use Twitter long enough, you’d soon ignore the question’s existence altogether. You don’t even notice it’s there. Something like Seth Godin’s ‘Purple Cow’ analogy.

When it comes to prompts, I believe their primary role is to attract new users to Twitter. The prompt influences what their first tweet will be about. Twitter CEO Biz Stone would probably agree with me on this. (Initially, I thought Twitter was banal and pointless because I took “What are you doing?” at face value.)

Be it “What are you doing?” or “What’s happening”, I don’t feel that either question can justify itself based on the many ways Twitter is used. I feel that prompts like these can actually affect the type of information that flows on Twitter perhaps by subconsciously directing the user’s thought processes. Considering this, “What’s happening?” is disruptive and debilitates Twitter in more ways than one.

Firstly, the new question’s specificity makes it even more narrow and limiting than “What are you doing?”. If enough people are influenced and hence adhere to answering “What’s happening?” more and more often, the Twitterverse will be so much for the worse – being reduced to 5 million news organizations. People’s expectations and perceptions of Twitter will undergo a gradual mental shift, and you might be more likely to see Twitter as a news outlet more than anything else in the future. I don’t wish to see this sort of influence on a write-what-you-want platform. It seems to me insidious.

Secondly, I see the new question as an inadequate attempt to include the activity of linking Tweets to news stories and blog posts. The vagueness of “What’s happening?” seem to indicate classifying every linked-tweet under a single, universal category. Fort Hood is placed on the same cognitive level of importance as eating KFC chicken – the un-newsworthy but interesting/witty tweet will be marginalised gradually, moving Twitter towards being just another news aggregator like Digg. Contrary to the very idea of bringing people of different places and walks of life together via microblogging, we may see people drifting apart and communities separated just because they have a different take on “What’s happening?”.

Then again, the impact of the above may me reduced if users naturally begin to ignore the prompt altogether after say, maybe 100 tweets.

What should the prompt be then? I suggest something inclusive, catchy, and not even a question.

‘Go ahead’.

4 Reasons Why Customer Service Is Clumsy On Twitter

May I not help you?

It’s a customer service rep’s nightmare. Twitter. I can imagine this poor guy in front of his computer screen, blood pressure rising as the customer service Twitter feed that he is supposed to oversee updates itself as fast as his heart is beating. This is the problem that is probably going to shorten the lifespans of a lot of customer service reps whose companies have decided they want to ‘Go Twitter’.

But why is Twitter such a bad tool for customer service?

1. Twitter is Low-Bandwidth

A high-bandwidth medium, like the telephone, can convey the richness of an exchange between a customer service rep and the customer. Emails and help forums come a close second, with high capacity for textual explanation without the need to link to generalised help pages that leave the customer scouring for relevance.

Twitter is primitive: in the sense that everything is in a linear, simplified textual flow with no direct, one-step way to solve any technical problem more complex than ‘restarting the program’ or ‘going out and smell the roses’.

2. Twitter is Misunderstood by Companies

Some companies see Twitter as a quick fix to brand and relationship building – a magic pill on a magic bandwagon. Too often, they do not understand Twitter enough or plan strategically (as they would have in other things) because they think that they can just jump right in and then feel around only afterward. Without strategic planning prior to a commitment to social media, resources are not going to be optimised. You get 7 staff to deal with 17 tweets per minute, and suddenly a 30-minute call on hold actually sounds good to the customer.

3. Twitter is Misused by Customers

Increasingly, customers are thinking that Twitter is the Holy Grail for customer service. It is not. Just like how monorails are not the pinnacle of public transportation excellence. Some customers just cannot peel themselves away from the illusion that Twitter can provide a ‘one-on-one’ customer service experience. Others equate the ease of twittering to the ease of feedback for the company in question. Customers get complacent, unreasonable and irresponsible: those who have once bothered to Google now treat Twitter like Google and expect the same (if not higher) quality and promptness of response. Worse, Twitter’s 140 character limit encourages superfluous complaints that have not gone through much thought in the minds of the customers typing those tweets. It poses a real nightmare for reps: how to separate real concerns from the lazy ones.

4. Twitter is not made for Customer Service

In customer service offices around the world, elaborate and complex software programmes and sorting systems actively classify and categorise incoming customer service enquiries. Twitter? Enough said.

Convenience is bad rationale for a primordial way of conducting customer service through Twitter. It’s like jostling with thousands in a crowded room with the customer service rep trying too hard to stay alive in the middle to answer queries well. Good customer service is worth the salt that more traditional modes of communication can offer. Once again, it is wise to bear in mind that Social Media channels are not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, especially not when it comes to building good customer relations.