What’s Your Mona Lisa? Finding the Fascination and Framing It Well

Posted on July 28, 2014 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

Mona-Lisa-at-the-Louvre-w-008It’s not every day you get to see the Mona Lisa in person. And for those of you who’ve been to The Louvre, you know it takes about a day to find the room where the Mona Lisa hangs and then a half day to wiggle your way to the front of the crowd to catch sight of the iconic painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

When my daughter and I visited Paris a few weeks ago and came face to face with the painting, we were in awe. Not of its artistry but of the power of one small painting of a Florentine housewife named Lisa Gherardini to fascinate millions of people worldwide, to cause heartbreak, suicide and spats among family members as they argue over whether it’s worth the foot blisters to find the little painting tucked in a bulletproof glass case. Let’s face it – and please forgive me art aficionados, historians and relatives of the da Vinci and Gherardini families: The Mona Lisa is not the prettiest painting in the Louvre. It’s not even the prettiest painting in that room. The Wedding Feast at Cana on the other side of the room is quite impressive.

What is fascinating is the story behind the painting: the mystery of this young woman, that interesting smile and why da Vinci chose to paint her of all people.  What’s kept us talking about this for more than 500 years is the story behind this 1503 painting, the interpretation upon interpretation of every aspect of the painting, including whether the subject really is Lisa Gherardini. “The emotions, the intelligence, the obvious wit that [da Vinci] captured are what make Lisa’s face so alive and so fascinating to us,” notes Dianne Hales in her new book “Mona Lisa”. That people of all sentiments and backgrounds are so passionate about this work of art is not enough to create the phenomenon.  It’s the story of the subject herself, the narrative of the making of the painting, and the tale of its journey that positions the Mona Lisa as the most buzzworthy subjects ever, even accounting for the Kardashians.

I have read so many stories about Mona Lisa that when I actually view the painting I see one of the greatest stories ever told. Beyond the canvas, the Mona Lisa stirs mystery, empathy, infatuation, love, curiosity. She is approachable, yet hard to get. And she might not even be the she we think she is.  She is smiling but she clearly knows more than I do. Which brings me back to reality. I don’t know much about art, clearly, but I do know that if you want to create something with appeal that is cherished for centuries (or even for this fiscal year), make sure your subject is interesting.  Choose a subject that is unconventional. Make sure your story palette has the right colors and your canvas the right texture.  Make it so good people will want to steal it, as was the case with the Mona Lisa which was stolen from the Louvre back in 1911. That, by the way, was great PR for the painting, as it brought a community together as they grieved and awaited its return.  The thief’s defense was that he fell in love with Mona Lisa. “I fell victim to her smile.”

Take a look at the stories you tell, the messages you convey, the pictures you paint of your brand. Can you find your Mona Lisa?  She might be staring right at you.

– Diane Schwartz

Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

 

 

 

 

LeBron James Learns a Lesson in Effective PR

Posted on July 14, 2014 
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LeBron James’ stunning announcement on Friday that he was heading back to Cleveland and rejoining the Cavaliers provides some food for thought for PR pros. Make that a feast.

For starters, it certainly didn’t go unnoticed that James chose Sports Illustrated—if ever there was a symbol of traditional media—to tell the world that he was returning to the Cavs after spending the last four years playing (and winning two championships) for the Miami Heat.

Sure, brands and organizations are tripping over themselves to develop more robust social media strategies. But James’ use of SI to get the word out is a reminder that when you have a critical announcement affecting myriad stakeholders, you might want to go with the most trusted media source and shoot for maximum impact.

James’ beautifully written letter, as told to SI’s Lee Jenkins, was in stark contrast to the circus-like atmosphere surrounding “The Decision” in 2010. That’s when James announced to the world, via ESPN, that he “was taking his talents to South Beach” after playing seven seasons for the Cavs.

Indeed, James’ most recent letter makes a compelling case that when you have something serious to say, less is more, and low-key is the right key.

“I’m not having a press conference or a party,” the letter says. “After this, it’s time to get to work.”

The 4x NBA MVP also demonstrates a knack for transparency, which is key for communications. The letter neutralizes any critics by saying his return to Cleveland is not about having trouble with Heat management or thinking that the team has cooled off competitively, but a burning desire to go home (and who among us can argue with that)? The story writes itself.

And by forgiving the erratic behavior of Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert following James’ departure for South Beach four years ago, James also shows a talent for putting himself in another person’s shoes—no small feat for PR pros whose job is to figure out how receptive their audiences will be to certain messages.

Finally, in a move worthy of one of his sweet sweeps to the hoop, James’ letter shows communicators how to kill two birds with one stone when it comes to effective messaging.

“I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up.”

It’s another PR lesson from James, who combines an emotional pitch with a need for the practical. What more can your constituents possibly ask for?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

3 Wise Ways to Tie Your PR to Sales

Posted on July 7, 2014 
Filed Under Digital PR, General, Measurement, Media Relations, Social Media, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

It’s the definitive question in C-suites, boardrooms and industry conferences: is there a correlation between PR and sales? It’s safe to say that, as a whole, communicators have not done a stellar job at demonstrating the link between PR and the top or bottom line.                                                                                                                  

While PR can sometimes directly be tied to sales, I am not espousing that it should always be tied to sales. Rather, your role as a valuable public relations practitioner includes demonstrating a return on investment from your PR efforts (refer to #3 in the Barcelona Principles). That “return” is not always about revenue; it’s about building awareness, improving reputation, informing stakeholders, and more.

There’s only so much you can control when it comes to the actual sales close. But you can be a part of ensuring there are processes in place to draw a correlation between your performance and that of your organization.  Get familiar with your typical customer’s buying journey and understand that your sales team comes into the journey rather late in the game. Consultant Debbie Qaquish, in a column on prnewsonline, explains rather adeptly how PR can, and why it should, augment sales.

What’s missing in many organizations is a collaborative approach in which the marketing mix includes PR from start to finish: PR is not thrown into the mix half way for good measure. It’s not sprinkled onto the mix as a nice to have ingredient and it’s not heaped on at the end to give it flavor. Rather, PR is a formidable ingredient in an organization’s marketing mix. For this to happen, the leaders in an organization need to believe in the power of PR and you need to preach what you practice.  Here are 3 ways to begin connecting your PR efforts to sales:

1. Talk to your sales team regularly. Do you know who the top salespeople are at your organization? Ask them what their clients are saying about your brand and products.  Equip the salespeople with supporting data, materials and anything you think would help them sell more. Set up monthly meetings with your sales colleagues, with the goal being to give them the updates, trends, thought leadership pieces and other supporting materials that will set them apart from competitors. You can’t sell for them but you can sell with them.

“Run your communications team like a sales team,” advises Mark Stouse, vice president at BMC Software, in a recent Q&A with PR News. “Focus on aligning your marketing and communications efforts with the three legs of sales productivity — demand generation, deal expansion and deal velocity.”

2. Know SEO.  Search engine optimization is not the sole domain of IT, Marketing or an outsourced firm. Optimize your content so it’s landing high in search results and attracting the right eyeballs. Whether you’re on WordPress or a custom content management system, you need to make your words sing louder and live longer online. There are countless tools available to learn the keywords your prospective customers are using (such as SEO Moz) and helpful PR/SEO workshops, but there’s no gaming the system. Produce fresh, relevant content and you’ll increase traffic, which should boost sales. Whether it’s Google Analytics or a premium tool, track your visitors’ conversion rate so you can prove that what your department is producing online results in positive, monetizable action.

3. Optimize social for sales.  Understand your audience behavior on social. Work with your marketing team to drive traffic to your Pinterest board or your Facebook page and don’t be afraid to sell them something while they’re there. You might currently be investing in social promotions and advertising, so why not complement those efforts with direct selling on your own social pages? Additionally, if your press release is not optimized with multimedia and unique links to points of sales (where applicable) then you are wasting a good press release opportunity.

There will come a day when we stopping putting a question mark after PR’s role in the marketing mix and its tremendous value to organizational growth. But this will require an integrated communications approach and a collaborative spirit. Do you have it in you?

- Diane Schwartz

Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

6 Business-Meeting Do’s, and 6 Absolute Don’ts

Posted on June 30, 2014 
Filed Under General, Internal Communication, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

dos_dontsSo you have a major meeting this week. Let’s say it’s a really important client meeting. You just landed a big account, and now you’re working out the details of who’s going to manage what. Or maybe the corporate communications department is tasked with implementing a social media and earned media campaign for a new branding initiative. It could even simply be an important cross-department meeting on employee relations.

The details differ, but the stakes are always the same. This is strategically important. It always strikes me as odd, then, that behavior in meetings is like the Wild West. It’s remarkable how norms for meeting etiquette vary so much. It depends on the company culture, and even on senior person present. I’ve seen people on their computers and phones for extended periods when they’re in meetings with the CEO. Or with a client. Wait, who—or what—is more important than that? I’ve seen people leave sales calls and return 10 minutes later—to me that’s absolutely unacceptable.

I’ve seen senior managers ignore or forgive favored folks for that kind of behavior while getting upset at others. A lot of the cues come from the managers, and too often, the managers are too busy with other things, or other agendas, to enforce decorum.

So here’s my list. Basically, as a communications pro, you should always behave in a meeting as you would if you were on the agency side and meeting with a prospective client or, if you’re in-house, with your C-suite.

Here are the do’s:
• Come prepared with ideas.
• Pay attention at all times.
• Do more listening than talking. You learn more, and people who withhold comment until they have something really important to say only enhance the importance of what they’re saying, because they’re perceived as deliberate and wise.
• Don’t interrupt. (There are at least two exceptions: When you’re the boss and someone is droning incessantly. When you’re a participant and the speaker is factually incorrect and droning incessantly.)
• Sit up straight.
• Take notes, but don’t take them on your computer because you look like you’re on e-mail.

And here are some don’ts:
• Don’t open your computer and give the screen more attention than the meeting.
• Don’t engage with your phone for e-mail or anything else.
• Don’t conduct side conversations.
• Don’t leave the room unless absolutely necessary.
• On conference calls, don’t mute the phone and do other tasks.
• Manage conflict well. If you’re debating, always offer a solution.

What other important items of business-meeting etiquette are there? What rules can you share?

—Tony Silber
@tonysilber

7 Ways to Shake Up Your Routine This Week

Posted on June 23, 2014 
Filed Under Digital PR, General, Internal Communication, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

Yoga2At a yoga class the other day, the instructor excitedly and in a heavy whisper told us she was going to shake things up a bit. “We’re not going to do the same moves you’re used to.” I peered down the hall at the Spinning class and contemplated rolling up my yoga mat and making my way there. I am glad I stuck with yoga that day because it not only stretched my limbs, it challenged my mind in new ways beyond the 60-minute class.

The instructor was nervous about these changes and kept apologizing: “Sorry, but no Downward Dog today!” It was all about Child’s Pose. “Be a Warrior,” she declared, as she implored us to just forget about Mountain Pose today. The Seated Twist was totally new to this class, and you could hear the grunts over the soothing music. “I hope you’ll forgive me for requiring a different path today. I only wish it gets you thinking about what routine you may change in your life this week.”

It was a Sunday and I decided to take her literally. From Yoga I went grocery shopping and started my excursion in reverse – Aisle 18 (milk and eggs) rather than my typical starting point of fruits and vegetables, Aisle 1.

I had a spare half hour for a manicure. Instead I got a pedicure and selected a nail color that my 10-year-old niece would have chosen for herself.  My yoga instructor would either be proud or appalled.

Later that night, I made my to-do list for the coming week. I put family things first on this list, then work items, and within the work to-do’s I listed only 2 things (rather than 10) for each day. I handed the sticky note to my husband to check it out. “Why are you showing me this?” he asked. I said, “Because I never show you my to-do list.” It was not exactly a romantic moment, but it was different.

At work, there are a lot of ways to shake up your routine. I’m not referring to barging into your boss’s office and asking for a raise, throwing your old computer on the floor demanding a new one, or launching a new product for a new audience. I’m talking about the little things you can do to rejuveniate, to challenge your muscle memory and to think of your day’s work in different and possibly more creative ways. This week, consider these changeups:

1. Walk down a different hallway to your office or cubicle: you’ll run into colleagues you normally don’t interact with and see areas of your work environment you never pay attention to.

2. Discard one item for every year you’ve worked at your company – pieces of paper you know you’re never going to read or need, items gathering dust, old plasticware. (Crumbs don’t count.)

3. Go to a competitor’s Web site, find something great there, and share it with your team in a positive, non-defensive way.

4.  Favor a different social media platform: if you spend the bulk of your social media time on Twitter, for this week spend more time on Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ or LinkedIn. Post, respond, join a conversation.

5. Ask a colleague if you could shadow him or her for a few hours. Assuming this will be kosher with the highers-up, consider spending 120 minutes with your IT guy or 120 in Accounting; or a few hours with Marketing.

6. Go to lunch with a colleague you don’t know well.  It might not sound appetizing, but chances are you’ll find common interests and learn something new about her and your company.

7. Write with pen and paper: Send a thank you note to 3 people: one person you work with, one customer or client, and someone who’s influenced you in your career. Don’t forget to mail it.

Just as my yoga instructor got me thinking in new ways, I hope this list will inspire you to shake up your routine and start to see new things in your environment and different ways of approaching work.

And with that, Namaste.

– Diane Schwartz

Find your way to my Twitter @dianeschwartz

 

3 PR Lessons from the Redskins Controversy

Posted on June 20, 2014 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

For communicators following the latest wrinkle regarding the Washington Redskins’ controversial name, it’s your basic PR blocking and tackling.

On Wednesday a federal board cancelled the team’s trademark registration, calling its nickname “disparaging to Native Americans.”

While the ruling puts a bit of a squeeze on the Redskins’ bottom line—the Redskins and the NFL are now limited to pursue legal action against those who use the Redskins’ name and logo on T-shirts, hats and other merchandise—it doesn’t force the team to abandon the name.

Even though the writing seems to be on the wall, Redskins owner Dan Snyder is defiant, saying he would never change the name.

“We’ve seen this story before,” Redskins attorney Bob Raskopf told the New York Daily News. “And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo. We are confident we will prevail once again.”

According to the News, a previous revoking of the team’s trademark in 1992 was locked up in the legal system until 1999 on appeal. A group of Native Americans brought the original suit. But the team and the NFL won the appeal in federal court.

However, unlike 1999, there’s now a groundswell of support to put the Redskins’ name to pasture. For example, a sector of the United Church of Christ voted Saturday to urge its 40,000 members to boycott the Redskins, while half of the U.S. Senate recently wrote letters to the NFL demanding a name change.

Snyder has every right to fight the ruling. But from a PR standpoint, the Redskins are probably on the wrong side of history. The issue also raises some fundamental questions for communicators who have a responsibility for managing their brand’s reputation.

> They don’t call it “evolution” for nothing. Controversial names (or icons) that once caused a collective shrug may now spark consternation, hence the Washington Bullets changing their name to the more benign Washington Wizards in 1995. Demos change. So, too, do consumer perceptions, which PR pros have to pay very careful attention to, lest they start to lose touch with reality.

> The court of public opinion often trumps the court of legal opinion. Synder could emerge victorious in court, but that would not stem the erosion in the Redskins’ brand (or Synder’s personal reputation). In this case, a legal victory would be a hollow one.

> Know when to cut your losses. So long as the protests against the Redskins’ name persist, the communications team will be forced to spend an inordinate amount of time defending the namesake and less time getting the brand’s other message out. Such a case also serves to, in some ways, denigrate the PR role. Rather than take a leadership position, PR pros will have to defer reporters’ question to the Redskins’ legal department. There’ll be fewer opportunities to tell a different story—stories that can renew trust in the organization and remove the suspicions that are now surrounding it.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

9 Social Media Tips that You Can’t Afford to Overlook

Posted on June 9, 2014 
Filed Under Crisis Management, Digital PR, General, Measurement, Media Relations, Social Media, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

If you weren’t at the PR News Social Media Summit last week, I forgive you. But really, you should try to attend an upcoming conference of ours because you are going to pick up a lot of unique, sound and creative tactics and strategies  – what we like to call “stealable ideas” – that will move your PR and marketing efforts forward more than a notch. I must confess that I am engaging in shameless content marketing as I write this blog post. I get very excited after one of our PR News events and want to share some (not all!) of the gleanings from the day’s event. So herewith I present 9 really smart social media tips to get your week off to a #greatstart. These are made possible by our outstanding summit speakers, attendees and sponsoring partners.

  1. Best quote of the conference: “No one wants to be friends with a butter cracker.” Kathryn Sheaffer, brand manager for Ritz Crackers, so aptly summed up the challenge of Facebook communications for brands. Be realistic about your brand’s presence on social media and engage with your fans in realistic ways.
  2. Get a few social platforms rights, then start to take chances on others. In other words, don’t dive into the entire social media pool. Pick a few lanes to swim in first, be it Twitter and Pinterest, or Linkedin and Facebook, master your strokes there, then start exploring other waters.
  3. Take your press release off cruise control. First of all, the press release is not dead. But the old-fashioned press release should be put out to pasture. Make sure your releases are optimized for search, have multimedia components that drive stakeholder engagement, are written well and most of all, are interesting!
  4. Tweet short: A tweet that’s less than 100 characters lifts share rate by 17%. You thought 140 characters was short? Think again.
  5. During a crisis, Twitter is for news and Facebook is for hugs.  Don’t mix it up.
  6. Great question posed to the audience: Why don’t PR pros do more A/B testing with their campaigns? Smart advice from Brandon Andersen of Cision, noting that A/B testing goes to the heart of Marketing 101 yet the PR discipline often overlooks this smart exercise in testing your messaging, be it on social media or in a traditional PR campaign.
  7. You cannot automate judgment. With all the talk of data mining, programmatic and cloud-based communication, the truth is that people still drive decisions.  Make sure you put a premium on good judgment when hiring talent and executing on campaigns.
  8. Content marketing is a commitment not a campaign. Most brands are engaging in some type of brand journalism and the jury’s out on how well it’s working. Those committed to content marketing, weaving it into their marketing-PR matrix rather than a one-off campaign here and there, are most likely to succeed in this area.
  9. Visuals are the new headlines. A picture is worth a lot more than 1,000 words. Invest in video, infographics, photography and graphics. Take time to learn about Vine and Instagram. See what your audience is seeing and then give them some of that.

I hope you’ll heed a few of these tips and let me know how it goes for you. Also feel free to add a kernel of advice below.

– Diane Schwartz

Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

 

The Yin and Yang of Social Media

Posted on June 5, 2014 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

I love Yelp. Not because I’m a foodie or a big restaurant goer, but for its reviews.

Whatever the establishment—whether it’s a new Bobby Flay creation or garden-variety diner—you can easily find wildly divergent views of the same restaurant, which makes for some entertaining reading.

For one person, the meal is so deliciously good that it’s as if he died and went to food heaven, while another person, who ate at the very same place on the same night, crows about how the Potatoes au Gratin were ice cold, the roasted chicken was way gamey and, oh yes, the waiter spilled wine all over the table.

Reading the comments on Yelp is like a massive Rorschach test, with subjects’ perceptions and interpretations running across the board, and back again.

It’s a similar syndrome with regard to social media, in which one person says it’s the greatest thing since canned beer while another may curse its very existence.

We’ve got ample evidence on the disparate views of social media— and whether it truly enhances the value of PR and communications— via a recent PR News/Cision survey on the state of social media for communications professionals.

We asked PR pros what’s the best/worst thing about social media, and the comments were all over the map, even contradictory.

Here’s a sampling:

The best things about social media:

>  You are able to connect with people virtually everywhere.

>  You’re able to place your information out at a specific time of day.

>  Two-way communication that results in trust and enhanced relationships.

>  The ability to build relationships with customers and even strangers that can become customers.

> The ability to get your word out to so many people at no cost.

The worst things about social media:

> While the numbers seem huge, actual reach is often very small.

> There’s way too much of it. Too much content that isn’t relevant.

> Hard to measure and hard to define ROI.

> I can’t find our customers.

> It appeals most to a demographic that has no purchasing power for my products.

Perhaps it’s the aperture with which you view social media. Maybe it depends on whether you look at life as a glass half full or half empty.

There are no right or wrong answers here. But social media is not going anywhere. It will evolve and change, like the rest of digital PR, and, most likely, become an even greater force in marketing communications. The trick is to make it work for your brand or organization, despite any budgetary or operational limitations.

See more survey results.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter:  @mpsjourno1

Business Conversations That Make Me Lose Sleep

Posted on May 30, 2014 
Filed Under Corporate Responsibility, Internal Communication, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

Which workplace exchanges do you find to be most difficult? For most people, they’re centered on two things: Personnel and performance. Both of these things straddle the worlds of internal communications and HR, and both are also general managerial challenges.

I recently read an interesting column in Business Insider about the toughest conversations you can have at work. They were:

1. The Emotional Dismissal Conversation
2. The Awkward Personality Conversation
3. The Underperformance Conversation

All these are tough, but they are typically part of the same progression, and the progression usually starts with number three above, and ends with number one. Here are the toughest workplace conversations, from my perspective, and how I proceed.

Personnel
These kinds of issues run the gamut—from people who are squabbling, to turf wars, to folks who simply don’t work well together. Sometimes goals don’t sync up. Other times, actual performance doesn’t fit the needs of the job, and that’s typically when the three-conversation pattern that Business Insider described kicks in. To my mind, all of these things are a huge challenge and all of them divert from the common business goal.

I’ve learned over the years that a sustained, tight focus on performance is the way to go. There should be no politics, no gossiping, just set a tone for the group that all you care about is results. Results require collaboration. Keeping everyone focused on that creates a sense of confidence that relaxes a group and empowers them to experiment and achieve.

Business Relationships
This is another difficult area, but for communicators, it’s critical. Everyone from entry-level account managers to CEOs deals with either external clients, or with the public. Think of how frequent it is that a lower-level employee embarrasses a brand on social media, either when representing the company, or through some personal post that goes viral.

Of course, we’re talking about conversations—whether with a subordinate or a colleague, or with an external customer. I’ve learned you can’t wing it when it comes to customer conversations. Too much is at stake. Policies that everyone knows about and understands are critical, and these have to come from the top. I’ve had many conversations with customers in my career, and when business is on the line, they can be really tense. For me, the way to ensure that you preserve the business—if that’s the goal, sometimes it isn’t—the relationship has to come first. (This is a bit counter-intuitive, because I just stressed the importance of policies.) If your customers trust that you have their interests at heart, and you have thought through their challenges and understand their objectives—you’ll keep the business. If they feel like you’re officious, and policy-bound, you won’t. Never use the word “unfortunately.” That conveys a focus on your internal policy, not on customer-service. It is also condescending. Never use the phrase, “We’re not set up to do that” for the same reasons. Always be ready with a solution or two.

Business Performance
For a lot of professionals, in PR and elsewhere, this is always a stress-inducing conversation, especially if you’ve fallen short of your goals. But it doesn’t have to be. Putting aside the possibility of the fundamental lack of skills to do a job, most business-performance shortfalls relate to external factors in the market, not to your execution. So it really is an opportunity to shape a conversation about missing goals into the cool ways you’re going to pivot to adjust to changes in the market.

What are the business conversations you struggle with the most, and what advice can you offer?

—Tony Silber
@tonysilber

Target CMO Sends a Powerful Message to PR Field

Posted on May 20, 2014 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

Rumors continue to swirl that Target CMO Jeff Jones may be named as the company’s new CEO.

Target is looking to fill the top slot after it announced earlier this month that CEO Greg Steinhafel had stepped down.

Steinhafel’s departure was precipitated by a massive security breach late last year in which hackers may have gained access to millions of customer credit and debit card records.

If Jones does get the nod as CEO, we’d like to think his response to an anonymous employee’s complaint (via Gawker) had something to do with the decision.

Indeed, the response may help Jones ascend to the top spot of the second largest discount retailer in the U.S.—and serve as a watershed for communicators and PR pros grappling with how to communicate with critics in an increasingly digital age.

The episode stems from an anonymous email Gawker received from a “mid-level employee” at Target’s headquarters in Minnesota.

The email does not paint a very flattering portrait of Target, saying the company prizes conformity above all else.

“You’re penalized and viewed as unfriendly and not a team player if you spend too much time in your cube working and not enough time socializing,” the email said.

The email also stressed that senior management at Target is essentially clueless about how to pivot the retailer, which dates back to 1902.

“Former [CEO] Greg Steinhafel getting fired was a good step, along with the CIO being fired a few months ago, but it’s not enough. The entire executive team with the exception of the CMO Jeff Jones needs to go. Why? Because everyone was homegrown and ‘Targetized’ and has no concept of how to run a 21st century business,” the email added.

Jones saw his opening and ran with it.

Rather than put out a news release about how the company is turning things around, Jones responded via a LinkedIn “influencer” post with the title, “The Truth Hurts.”

The post is remarkable for its candor. “And while it was difficult for me to read this account for many reasons, the reality is that our team members speaking with honesty is a gift. Because much of what they are saying is true.”

He added: “The culture of Target is an enormous strength and might be our current Achilles heel. In the coming days and weeks we will embrace the critiques of Target—whether it’s from outsiders or our own team—like an athletics team puts the negative press on the wall in the locker room.”

You know what they say about not letting a crisis go to waste.

But, perhaps more important, Jones’ response could serve as a model for PR pros and brand managers who realize that the current marketplace demands more of a warts-and-all approach to communications (as opposed to airbrushing the corporate blemishes).

Jones may or may not land the CEO gig at Target, but our guess is that he’ll be an integral part of the new regime at Target.

However things shake out, he’s provided some invaluable tips for PR execs who realize that traditional ways of communicating with irate customers (and employees) no longer cut it.

Here are some takeaways:

> When your brand is called on the carpet by critics (anonymous or not, in-house or external), use the criticism as a springboard for some soul-searching about your brand.

> When your brand is criticized don’t get into a defensive crouch. Look at the criticism as an opportunity to tell your story more effectively and meet the critics head-on.

> Corporate managers who grew up in the analog age were conditioned not to admit their mistakes. They also were made to feel like failure was somehow a fate worse than death. But, in a digital age, it’s just the opposite. Consumers embrace brands that own their mistakes and seem to put more faith in companies and organizations that aren’t cowed by failure, but, instead, use it as a communications tool.

What would you add to the list?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

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